Thursday, December 29, 2011

On my way to Bogota

As I sit here on the 9 hour bus ride from Medellin to Bogota, I decided to tally up all the countries I've visited (excluding countries I've transited through). In no particular order:

Vatican City
Hong Kong

...25 in total.

And on the horizon in 2012 - Japan, South Korea, South Africa, Madagascar, Lesotho, possibly Israel or Saudi Arabia.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Medellin, Colombia

I'm sitting at the Parque de Los Pies Descalzos (which I believe means the park of bare feet) in Medellin, Colombia. When I wandered over here from my hostel, I didn't expect it to be in the middle of a corporate park, but it is and here I am. While I sit here, enjoying the perfect 70 degree weather in my slippers, t-shirt and shorts, I'm right across from what appears to be some sort of corporate team building event. Perhaps it's their first day on the job, everyone seems pretty excited as they stand in a circle imitating one another doing stupid actions. It reminds me of the Wharton class doing the same thing during the learning team retreat in Aug - little did I know we looked so silly from an outsiders perspective!! For what its worth, it seems to work to get to know those around you.

And if that group is having fun, the others walking back to their office building after their lunch break look straight up depressed. It is a day after Christmas... yet I can't help but ask why corporate professionals subdue themselves into accepting boring jobs which they put endless hours into for a good 30-40 years of their lives. Sure there are ups and downs but how many people truly feel passionate about pushing paper around?

I know I'm taking a very narrow-minded and pessimistic view but as I sit here, it makes me realize how lucky I am. I get to travel the world and do whatever I want to (at least for 2 years of my life). Yeah, there's the academics but in all honesty it's such a small part of the business school experience. Since I quit my job back in April, I've visited more interesting places, done more interesting things and met more interesting people in a short time span than ever in my life before. That's not to say that everything I've done and those I've met until now are any short of spectacular, but it sure didn't happen in a mere 6 months.

In MBA land, by now most students are in the thick of recruiting season - so we can all go back to those boring professional jobs the corporate world will offer us. I clearly feel very different about returning to the working world, so I've skipped out on recruiting for the most part. Apart from applying to two very elite companies (elite in my books at least) I'm following the entrepreneurial route. If I'm actually going to do something with my education, it might as well be something I love and control. I'm definitely not unique in my philosophy, even though it's not the mainstream at Wharton. Hopefully all of us aspiring entrepreneurs will build successful companies so we can employ others that are willing to take boring corporate jobs (i kid, I kid)! Quite the contrary, I do hope that when I build a company it has a culture where people don't drag their feet when they walk in after lunch. If I'm going to have fun building a company, everyone should have fun working their too.

In any case, back to Colombia. I got to Medellin yesterday evening and hung around Parque Lleras in El Poblado eating and drinking. Later today, I'll be checking out the views of Medellin by metro-cable and the Christmas lights by the river. And then it's off to Bogota. Adios mi amigos!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Back to School

It's great to be back in Philadelphia and pre-term has been a blast so far.  It's been insanely busy though.  I got back from India (where I was on summer immersion as part of my dual degree Lauder program) last Saturday, which was immediately followed by a weekend of moving.  If there's a way to walk into class tired on the very first day, it would be to come back from half way across the world and move an entire apartment while still suffering from jetlag!  I was exhausted by the time I got to campus on Monday at 8:30 AM.

Since my posts are being published in two places (my personal blog as well as Wharton Student Diaries), I'll digress and do a quick intro for my program once again.  I'm a Wharton/Lauder dual degree candidate.  That essentially means, along with my MBA, I'm also doing an MA in International Studies.  The MA consists of a country/language focus (India/Hindi in my case) as well as additional coursework in global business.  The MA portion also means that I started classes in May in Philadelphia and continued language classes in June/July in India.  So in essence, I've already been back to school for 3 months now.

So what was the first week like?  Well, on the first day we found out our cohorts, followed by orientation and introductions.  Our cohort was one of the better organized ones since we decided we wanted to do a social happy hour on the first day.  Yah!  On the second day, pre-term classes started.  My schedule was actually somewhat light since I took the Math Waiver Exam prior to arriving at Wharton.  There is a pre-requisite Math exam that everyone needs to pass in pre-term but since I had already done that, I was able to skip out of the math prep classes.  For any future students, make sure you do the same - it's a life saver in pre-term!  Other than that, I've had Stats, Managerial Economics and Finance classes this week.  Since I have a math background (Engineering to be specific), I've found them to be quite straightforward so far but I'm sure the difficulty will pick up in the second week.

Other than the academics, the social aspect is definitely in full swing.  Walk into any of the big name bars in Philadelphia this week and you're guaranteed to find at least 50 Wharton students!  I started the week similarly but decided to tone it back the last couple of days.  There's only so much one can go out in the first week!  Beyond the drinking, a number of student-organized events are also starting to happen - soccer games, golf, poker, theater, photography tours, etc...  The Wharton Class of 2013 is vibrant and excited to be here.  I'm sure it'll make for a great 2 years!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Dharamsala – Or is it Tibet?

For the final organized trip for the Lauder Hindi track, we were off to Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh.  For various reasons, what was a Lauder event turned into an optional trip, however I wasn’t going to miss the chance to visit the home of the Dalai Lama.  Dharamsala is where the Dalai Lama has taken exile and a number of Tibetans have followed him.  In order to get to Dharamsala, we hopped onto an overnight train and then took a 3 hour taxi to get to Mcleod Ganj (the touristy part of Dharamsala).

Now before I talk about Dharamsala itself, let me tell you a little about Indian trains.  The overnight trains are a lot of fun – you get your own little section, you play cards, read a book, gossip for a while and then go to sleep in bunk beds (stacked in sets of 3 beds).  Now the less enjoyable part is after you’ve gone to sleep.  The train makes a few stops along the way and then you have random people coming into your section turning on your lights.  Or trying to steal your pillow.  Or pulling out your phone charger to charge their own phone (don’t ask me why they can’t charge it in their own damn section).  In any case – all of this happened to my poor friend who was desperately trying to get some sleep and not only did it wake him up each time but the rest of us too!  Can’t we have a little bit of common courtesy please?!?

In any case, after arriving in Dharamsala, we decided to take a trek to the Bhagsu waterfall.  We were given very vague instructions on how to get there so before we knew it we were going off road on the mountain.  It was all good fun though as we found a few mountain goats who took quite the liking to us and followed us along the way.  The goats were uber cute and mostly harmless.  Well, apart from when they decided to fight, ramming into each other head to head!  The waterfall itself was scenic but nothing incredibly amazing (I do come from Canada which just happens to have the largest natural waterfall in the world – perhaps I’m a little biased?).  What I did find spectacular though was how the clouds went in and out of the peaks and valleys – it made for some phenomenal views.

The next day, we went to the Norbulingka Institute.  The chaos that is India completely disappeared in this small compound.  The grass looked greener, the air seemed fresher and there was a relaxing peacefulness about the place – well, until the mosquitos started feasting on my ankles!  Regardless, it was a very enjoyable monastery.

Over the next couple of days, I also hit up the 17th Karmapa monastery, the Tsuglangkhang complex (where the Dalai Lama lives) and another temple that’s hidden away in the forest.  I accidently came up on this temple wandering on a small path through the forest and still have no idea what it’s called.  I actually found it more fascinating than the one in the Tsuglangkhang complex, so anyone going there please go check it out – walk down the road around the backside of the Tsuglangkhang complex (it’s a 15-20 minute walk).

The trip to Dharamsala wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the food.  The Peace Café surely has the best brownies in all of India!  It was so good that I went back there a second time just for the brownie!  Other than that, I found the Tibetan and Bhutanese food quite enjoyable – momos, thukpa and thenthuk.  Overall, Dharamsala made for a very enjoyable low-key weekend, exactly what I need before heading back to Philadelphia for the Wharton MBA pre-term.

Friday, July 29, 2011

In the Media

As I’ve already discussed on my blog, the Lauder Hindi track has had the opportunity to meet some pretty big names during our summer immersion.  Two of the most interesting and fun visits involved the Hindi track presenting itself in front of the Indian media.

First off, we had the opportunity to write for the Navbharat Times (Delhi’s most popular Hindi newspaper).  On day 1, we individually wrote articles about India’s arrival on the international stage and what challenges face the country.  There it is – my Hindi in full print!  Fortunately, the wonderful editors at Navbharat Times actually make my article sound somewhat legitimate.  On the second day, we had the opportunity to tag along with a reporter – but unfortunately, my reporter’s meeting got cancelled (it is India, after all).  Later that day, we collectively wrote an article about the changes that have come about in Delhi.  It felt a little artificial, but once again, we were immortalized (or something like that) on the front page of the newspaper.

The other visit was to Radio Mirchi - India’s most listened to Hindi station.  Radio Mirchi really impressed me – the employees had an energy about them, a vibe that clearly demonstrated the fun they have at work.  And that fun definitely translates into the broadcast studio.  All the Radio Jockey’s clearly love being on air.  And for a few minutes, I had the opportunity to partake in that enjoyment.  Right in the middle of rush hour, my trackmate and I had the opportunity to have a short chat live on air.  We talked about our program, our reasons for studying Hindi and even about finding the right woman!  The RJ’s and Radio Mirchi employees gave me an uber-compliment when the told me I was a natural on air.  Perhaps if the whole business thing doesn’t work out, I’ll become an RJ on a Hindi radio station!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Jaipur, Rajasthan

A couple of weekends ago, the Lauder Hindi track went to Jaipur.  We left on Friday afternoon but first we stopped off for a night at Neemrana.  Neemrana is between Delhi and Jaipur and the location of an old fort, which has been converted into a hotel.  This is where we would stay on Friday night.  The fort itself was gorgeous.  We spent a good 2-3 hours exploring the fort before jumping into the swimming pool to cool down.  Beyond the natural beauty we were a little disappointed with the hotel itself – small rooms, mediocre meals and we would later learn that half the fort was built specifically for the hotel!  Despite that, we had our fair share of fun (which may or may not have included some late night sneaking around the fort in the dark).

The next morning we left for Jaipur.  Our trip took a turn for a worse as we were stuck in traffic for much longer than we should have.  We had a corporate visit at a textile factory in Jaipur, which turned out to be a bust.  Not having had any lunch, we were all starving and had little interest in the textile factory itself.

Despite not having eaten, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity of seeing the Jaipur sunset from Nahargarh fort.  It was by far the most memorable moment of the weekend and one of the most beautiful and unique sunsets I’ve ever seen.  From the top of the fort, we could hear individual voices, cars horns and prayers from each of the many masjids in Jaipur.  We saw the daylight turn into a beautiful spectacle of city lights and could see fireworks going off in the distance.  For anyone going to Jaipur, I would highly recommend watching the sunset from Nahargarh fort.  It’s breathtaking!

As we drove back from Nahargarh fort,  I couldn’t help notice the numerous animals on the streets – cows are commonplace in India but there were horses, camels and elephants being ridden on the streets!  After a much needed dinner, we crashed at the Hotel Arya Niwas.

On our way back to Delhi, we stopped at Amer fort.  Once again, the views from Amer fort are breathtaking.  The fort itself is massive and quite a spectacle but by the end of it I had definitely seen enough forts for the weekend!  The trip to Jaipur felt a little short and we unfortunately didn’t have time to see the older part of the city (The Pink City).  Nevertheless it was a fun trip and I’m sure I’ll return at some point in my life to see the rest of Jaipur.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What About the Academics?

From my recent posts it must appear that the Lauder summer immersion is all fun, games and travel, but we actually do have to study too!  So on that note, I'm going to use today's post to summarize the academics.

Over the last 2 months, we've averaged 3-5 hours of class on most days, which includes instruction as well as one-on-one sessions.  Overall, I definitely saw an improvement in my Hindi, but I also feel I'm quite a ways from the much desired "superior" level.  The ultimate goal over the 2 years at Wharton/Lauder is to improve our language skills up to "superior," which basically means that one can handle a wide variety of situations (including presentations, debates and role plays) with complete language fluency.  Now if by some miracle, I am actually able to pass off as "superior" by the end of the 1st year, then my summer project for next year will have more flexibility (i.e. I wouldn't necessarily have to come back to India next summer).  Superior or not, my goal was to improve as much as I could.

Aside from the language instruction, I found the first month was very light on graded assignments.  And then suddenly, about half way through we were hit with a presentation, debate and short speech all in the same week.  I presented my Wagah border experience (from my July 15th post).  For the debate, I had to role play the government view on the Lokpal bill (an anti-corruption bill) - much to my chagrin it's not a viewpoint I agree with and thus got killed in the debate.  And finally, my speech was about a recent corporate visit to Reliance Big Entertainment.

For the second month, we had a number of ungraded debates, presentations, grammar correction exercises and ad hoc stories we had to make up.  We had our final exam today, which consisted of a 5 minute speech, a written assignment and some grammar corrections.  All in all, I was happy that our classes were somewhat relaxed but a part of me thinks a little extra rigor would have helped me improve my language faster.  It's a difficult balance though since I'm sure I would have been complaining if the classes were any tougher!