Thursday, April 30, 2009

The begining of the UF MBA

This one may be long :) Its been 3 weeks at Gainesville now and they have been great!

I acclimatised a little to Gainesville in the initial week, completing my university formalities, exploring the campus and using the public bus system. I also played a lot of basketball at the univerisity's humongous SouthWest Recreation Center, 0.7 miles away from where i stay. UF is one of America's top sports schools, having won the NCAA (american) football championship last year. 
It is also rated as one of the top party schools in country in unofficial guides. Sport and partying kinda go hand in hand here, with tailgates aplenty during the fall football season. Have to see that. Coming back to the facilities, the SW center is enormous as so many students train here. They have close to 8 indoor bb courts, 2 outdoor ones, 4 soccer (ahem) grounds, 6 beach volleyball courts, 6 large squash courts, a large cardio room and a 14000 sq foot gym. These guys obviously love their sports as this is but one of the three huge complexes at the university devoted entirely to sports.

UF is big on probably every statistic. A 2000 acre campus, 900+ buildings, more than 150 departments and close to 60,000 students are just a few of them. 3 weeks into the program, I have thus far seen a huge hospital, an equally large cancer research institute, fine arts schools, music building, plenty of science labs, engineering buildings and sports medicine insitutes. There
 is more for me to see yet. 
However, you would probably never notice the size of the campus because of the greenery here
. I could swear that i had landed in Bangalore (the part near the ashram), with palm trees and lush 
green trees when i got here the first time. And the weather is Indian too - which is great.

Our business school, comprising 5 buildings nicely dots the UF map. Thats where i was headed 
on the 27th morning for my orientation. The student ser vices team had done an awesome job in sending us the entire prientation manuals and notices 2 months earlier. I later learnt that 25 of us shall graduate as MBAs next year. The average age of the program is 29 and the average number of years of experience around 6. 
We are 4 international students - one apiece from China, Korea, Nigeria and Namaste. Plenty of US defence forces people. 6 women out of 25. The presenters on day 1 introduced us to some of the history  and people at UF MBA. It was a great start and the whole setting was very friendly yet dignified. On day 2, we travelled to Lake Wauberg, a lake run by UF staff and we played plenty of team games combining joint problem solving and physical exersise. Kinda like a crystal maze. After lunch, we tried the ropes challenge, where we belayed and rope climbed a 50 foot+ tall structure - similar to the stuff we 
see in military traning. Day 3 through Day 5 was a combination of further introductions, the student body presentations, leadership building courses, career planning and stuff. The meals on all the days were consistently yummy. We also had a mixer at the Swamp, the popular pub near
 UF, and a bowling night out on Friday.

The academics started yesterday, and we have a packed  semester here. Most of my calendar through May and June is already marked with tons of appointments. The faculty have commendable credentials and emphasize plenty on real world application of the concepts.  They
 are also very planned and prepared, and we have already been handed all the presentations and preparation materials we may require through the term. Seems like our small cohort is headd for an active, but fun summer ahead.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hey How are you? and other observations

The last couple of weeks have been tremendous fun! I travelled via cold cold London, on a grey grey morning to a sunny, clear Boston which, ironically was even colder than London.

Amherst was awesome and i stayed at Chachi's place. Got introduced to all sorts of meat, pork, chicken and other vegetarian delicacies made entirely from soy. Have to admit though that even the meat-free meats dont taste so great any more....Got my basic setup and acclimatization done and learnt some driving here. There are so many strange things to driving in America, of which the cake goes to the 'Stop' signs. They seem to be be everywhere and the driver necessarily needs to stop at all of them. And the speed l;imit is very strongly adhered to. My cousins are big gamers, and we spent many hours playing titles on their XBOX 360. The younger one is an awesome rock guitarist at the tender age of 14. He made his satsang debut in the satsng concert held to honor the 'teacher from India'. The satsng concert was a blast, with 2 elec guitars and 5 drums. 

Sports and people's fascination here has been a revelation. Most conversations are peppered with the updated basketball/football/baseball scores. The gymnasiums here, and the national fascination with basketball are to be seen to be believed. At the UMASS campus at amherst, one 'gymanasium' had 5 gyms and 10 basketball courts under one roof. And college students spend a lot of time playing. 

I landed in Gainesville the day before, a big welcome change from the cold New England weather. he trees and vegetation seems very close to India. The University of Florida is an enormous, school with noble laureaes and olympians having graced its halls in their student years. The student community here is close to 60,000. UF is big into sports with many students who compete in the olympics from their countries.

I am comfortably settled into a major Indian enclave here, and have started watching streaming TV shows to acclimatise in the new culture. I loved the series"How i met you mom", of which i have seen5 episodes now.

Have not taken too many photos, but shall clcik some soon and upload them too.  

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A nice journey

The last week was a blur of activity in preparation of my travel to the US. Packing for traveling to the US kept throwing up new 'must-carry' items everyday, and it was finally concluded on Saturday evening at 8.00 pm. Plus taking a backup of all the documents on the laptop, installing essential software, copying all the beautiful photos of the wonderful 3 months onto the ew laptop, getting all papers in place.It is always a good idea to check out your university's Indian students' association web pages for checklists and reminders. So i was finally set to leave yesterday at around 8 pm.

Our AD YES+ group got together last evening at 8 pm and we were all together till the airport. Plenty of wonderful conversations, and gifts were exchanged, We reached the Abu Dhabi airport at 11.20 pm last night and after completing the check-in formalities, I came out to the main gate where our group waited. Lots of hugs, wonderful memories, full hearts and gifts marked the meeting.

The BA flight for heathrow took off at 2 am, and 7 and a half hours later, i was flying through dense grey clouds into terminal 5 at London. The skies in london were so grey, it reminded me of all the english books i had read . And it was cold, yet the airport was spic and span. It looked sterilized actually, quiet and clean like the insides of a hospital. I visited the Heathrow lounge and found an interesting chewable toothbrush, a chewing gum with bristles which means you can discard the toothpaste and just chew on. Then there was the Multi-faith prayer room, a room with a chapel, prayer mats, and yoga books. I did my Kriya and sadhana here, and then had some of the lovely parathas mum had packed. I then proceeded to the departure gate, which was a good 7 minute walk from the lounge and our flight to the US was off an hour and a half after scheduled. Seems the captain found a funny 'smell' on the aircraft.

THe trip to Boston also took 7.5 hours. I had an interesting, scottish businessman for my neighbor. He heads marketing for a huge firm and shred nice insights into the marketing profession.We talked at length about politics, sports and was a lot of fun. When we landed at Boston, it seemed warmer than London, but was not. Turned out that American Airlines had left half the luggage in London, something they usually do, and i had to file a 'request' for my luggage with the American Airlines counter, who promptly drove the bag down to Uncle's house the next day.

The first few days at my aunt's place in the US have been interesting. Have learnt a bit about driving here, visited huge stores, eaten varieties of bacon, turkey and sausages made from tofu, and had a loong intense basketball game in UMass' massive indoor stadium today (there are 10 full sized basketball courts within a single structure). I considered myself fit, but the experience of working out with American college kids has left me with a stronger determination to adopt a better diet and fitness plan :) will experiment with rajesh bhaiya's high protein, low carb diet.

Will start with seva soon. Have just been absorbing all the wonderful Guru stories that chacha and chachi have, and have also been doing sadhana in the room Guruji gave darshan in.

Its a nice start overall, lets see how things shape up!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A bit on Mantras

My first experience of mantras was when i learnt the Gayatri mantra from mum in 7th grade. In those days, chanting the mantras for a few moments, would bring such a sharp, focused and peaceful mind. Nevertheless, i forgot about their utility as growing up and moved on.

That was till i did my Art of Living basic course and the Sudarshan Kriya. The sheer experience of peace and energy was unlike anything i had felt ever before. Although this sadhana derives its potency from another, much more subtle source, the root mantra used in the practise is a maha mantra by itself.

Recently, i bought a copy of "Healing Mantras", at Landmark in Bangalore,  and it gave me brilliant insights into some of the spiritual practices i have been following. Even when i would chant the Gayatri mantra in earlier days, i would feel incredible peace, but understanding a bit of its meaning from this book has allowed me to go deeper into the experience. The book is incredibly well organized with mantras speciafically written for addressing specific mental, financial or physical conditions, and practitioners have reported positive transformations.

Till now, i thought mantras as prayers or praises of divine, abstract forms. But once i began chanting some of these mantras, i realized that these actually have a deep, powerful physical and mental effect. Just chanting the Ganesha or Laxmi mantras allows me to feel more consolidated, focused and positive at the same time. I was delighted to learn the meanings of the mantras i chant when doing the surya namaskar, and chanting these makes the surya namaskar something else altogether. I was also happy to read in details about chakras, and the connection between the planets, the constellation, our bodies and mantras.

How wonderful is the fact that the rishis of ancient times have stored their cumulative discoveries of the mysteries of the universe into these sounds, and that these mantras can so immediately address the mental and emotional issues and challenges we face today!

On the eve of ashtami, here is a gift-
"Aum Shrim Maha Laxmiye Swaha" - the mantra for unlocking abundance in life.