Thursday, July 31, 2008

Culture Shock

Efficiency, Openess of mind and plain good service.
But today, I'll talk about something else. Something completely unrelated.
Ladies and gentlemen, the DMV.
Got there early before it opened to find out that I'm not the only smart guy in Fairfax county.

They require two forms of ID. Yes, one is not enough because there's no way you can fake two IDs. One, maybe, but two... no way!
Since the only official US document I have is my passport and since my Israeli drivers lisence is not accepted ("according to the law, sir") I was offered to bring in my official transcript from the university. Since I won't have these for a while, until the semester that hasn't started yet will end, this was not a good solution for me.
They had no problem accepting a lease agreement that I printed out by myself for a lease that hasn't yet begun as proof of my residency. I even registered as a voter in the state.

At this point I should probably explain why it was so important to get the license. I'm buying a car and I need to get insurance. If I have an in state lisence, the rates drop by like 40%.

At this point I was told to bring in my birth certificate. I think I had a puzzled look when I was thinking [ok, just hang on one sec, while I go buy a $2000 plane ticket, fly over to my mom's house (only about 12 hours flight) and rush over back real quick )]. I said I'm not sure I still have it, and she replied that I must have it since I couldn't get a passport without it. Since it has been about 30 years since I got my first passport I wasn't really sure we kept it.

When they mentioned the selective service card (somthing I was only first aware of it's existance 2 months ago) my eyes glowed and I rushed back to my mother in law's home to find it.

Since I also found out that they don't really perform driving tests there, I found me a new DMV office and drove there.

I got lucky and received a good education session when I tried to figure out my weight and height in pounds and feet. The lady decided there's no way I can be 5"10 and must be 5"8. "Sir, when people try to help you, you listen and don't write down anything. Now go and fill a new form and come back".

When I turned to go back and fill the form again, she called after me "what did you just say?!" Since I didn't say anything I turned back and asked "what did I just say?" and she said "ok" so I guess it was ok.

I got back to discover my selective service card is not accepted there. It would have to be sent to Richmond and I'd have to wait 2 weeks for their response if they agree to accept it. I got to speak to the supervisor after waiting for her for 15 minutes during which I noticed the slow pace the people were working there. Efficiency was also noted when they had 10 computer stands for taking tests, but only 2 were being used. (yes, they were functional). After almost giving up on the argument with the open minded and understanding supervisor, realizing I'll have to wait to get my student ID card and maybe they'll agree to accept it as a form of ID, it hit me - my Israeli passport!

After some discussions, they agreed that this is recognizable by the USA and off I went to wait to be called to take the computer test.

The eagle has landed

So here I am. After 30 years of exile, I'm living in the States again. Interesting enough (or not) I'm not that far away from where I took my first breath in the world at a hospital in the Dirstrict of Columbia. First few days have not been very productive.
In half an hour we'll be driving to the DMV in hopes that they won't make any trouble on account of my not having any proof of being a resident of the state, since my lease only starts in a week. Fingers crossed.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Leaving the country

I still don't fully grasp that in a few days, I'll be leaving the country. Yesterday I had my farewell party on the roof at work and it was heart warming, seeing all those people whom I've worked with the past four years. I've made some close friends there and it is tough leaving all those behind, in addition to the career I loved. Part of the switching countries process is detaching from a lot of material stuff. In my years of existence, I've managed to accumulate a lot of belongings. Shipping everything in a container is too expensive so, like a lot of other students going for their MBA in the US, I'm selling everything I can, donating the rest and throwing away tons of stuff. When I started clearing the house I thought about every little thing before throwing away. By the time I was finished, I was throwing/donating quality stuff without a second thought. Today I said good bye to my best friend since the 7th grade and I still don't really acknowledge that I'm leaving.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Moving hell

Yesterday it was time to clear out our apartment. Somehow I expected, or more like envisioned my time after leaving work and before b-school more like drinking a rum cocktail with one of those tiny umbrellas under a coconut tree rather than the hectic time I've had the past two weeks getting ready for moving a country, tying up lose ends for work and, well, b-school stuff (which I am so far away from finishing). It was a last minute decision, but it seemed a 3 day scuba diving vacation down in the red sea will be worth the time we don't spend on packing and getting ready. It totally was. However, in order to get ready for moving day after the mover, who also packs the apartment bailed on us, we needed to pack strait through the night. At half past midnight I couldn't see strait anymore so we set the alarm for a three hour nap and then continued until 13:00, when the movers came. Movers have the tendency to always be unhappy. Unhappy with the deal's details, the pay, the tip etc. I think it's part of their training. Two of them actually were quite nice. The third, who looked like he was running the show was less kind - to us and to his colleagues. I won't bore you with the details of the rest of the hellish day spent with the movers, but I will say this: I am never moving house again. After graduation, when I work on the west coast, I'll come by on weekends back to Charlottesville to the grad student complex. Maybe there's a start up idea here. Maybe I could switch apartments during the weekdays with someone with the same agenda who lives in the west coast. Maybe we could have listings of all of those switchable apartments, say we'll call it Greg's list or something. Maybe writing a post when I'm so tired wasn't such a great idea after all...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Tuck Visit

Tuck is one of the few top schools that will interview you prior to submitting your application. It's a great opportunity, especially for internationals already visiting to leave a strong impression since it's not likely that you'll come there again just for an interview. The downside of it is that you really have to prepare. Although we've done some mock interviews, looking back, I realize I was insufficiently prepared. We were lightly preparing our first applications to Darden while we were traveling so we just weren't polished enough.

Before driving to NH, we had to go get our found luggage containing our suits we needed for the interview. Just the night before, when we landed, AirTran informed us that they don't know where our luggage is, so we were extremely happy when we were notified it was found. Joyful that we didn't need to go shopping for suits we started driving to NH.

Dartmouth college is impressive. Located in Hanover, NH with all that green and forests around was very attractive for me. I like small places and Hanover was really a gem. We stayed in the nicest, coziest, homey motel in Lebanon (the nearby town). You come to realize that the center of your life would be around the school's building and we even heard stories from the Tuckies that during the harsh winter, they sometimes just stay indoors without ever leaving the school since it's connected to the dorms. Anyway, Tuck is really something else. The main hall has a fireplace and I've read that the whiskey club (yes, an official club for tasting whiskeys) sits around the fireplace drinking and telling stories. We walked by students sitting around with their laptops to the admissions office. The furniture around us is all oldish style in a good way. The staff was very nice. Parking is allowed in specifically designated places around campus. There are very few of these. However, I've heard one of the staff mention to a prospective that if he got a parking ticket, that he should just bring it to the admissions office and they'll take care of it.

I was interviewed by a second year student. When I analyzed it later on, I realized I should have shown more confidence with this guy, but as I've mentioned I wasn't prepared to take on an interview at the time. From what I've found out prior to the interview, the Tuck interviews are a flowing conversation, but that doesn't mean it's a walk in the park.

The class visit was OK, though there was nothing memorable there. Lunch in the cafeteria was decent and the student community seemed nice and helpful. We already had a scheduled meeting with an Israeli student of course and he was kind and informative. The main attraction of Tuck to me was the small class and tight-knit community, living in the middle of nowhere, NH - that's actually a good thing by my standards - bonding for two years. I did hear later on that students there actually need a liver transplant after two years there. I'm sure I could have taken it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sloan Visit

As an engineer, employed in the high-tech industry and aiming to return there - MIT was in my top list. After parking in a garage 10 minutes from school we discovered there's free parking right in front of the school. We met some nice prospectives in the lobby and started chatting. We then met a current Israeli student who seemed keen on the school, but we kept getting interrupted and didn't really get a chance to connect.

The class itself and the conduct in the class wasn't that interesting for our taste. We had lunch boxes prepared for us, which was very nice of the school and had lunch with current students. Of course, we got to ask questions about the school and application process.

We had a meeting scheduled with another Israeli student. We were eager to meet him, since the Israeli angle always reveals interesting information. We had a small communication breakage with him and couldn't find him for 15 minutes. When we managed to get him on the phone, he decided to cancel the meeting.

We left the school with feeling that we don't quite fit in the school's culture. I think this is the first time we really understood the importance of visiting schools and getting the feel from it and the people there. It's a good school, and I'm sure other people may find it more of a fit. By the time we reached the car, we had already decided not to apply to Sloan.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Stanford Visit

Unfortunately Stanford hadn't yet had class visits available. I was really hoping to see what a Stanford class is like and get the feel of the student body. I did however meet two Israeli second years - who were a couple, which was great since we had the same goal of getting admitted together. They were two superstars who managed to get admitted to 5 top schools together and chose Stanford. They were extremely nice and spent some time with us over lunch telling us about the program.

I really liked Palo Alto and the campus itself. It provides the pastoral learning atmosphere and you have San Fransisco not so far away. We attended a short session conducted by the admissions staff and that was that. Our time was short and we had to proceed to our next stop - Boston, where we'll visit MIT and then head over to Tuck. We had just a few stops along the way: A few days in Vegas, Phoenix, Fort Lauderdale and a short 3 day vacation in the Bahamas.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Haas Visit

We drove around Berkeley for a while before we reached some office that sells parking permits. Since they didn't know the way to the parking lots, we spent some more time finding one next to school. A Haas student later told me: "The best thing about Berkeley is our great location. The worst thing about Berkeley is our great location". The campus is beautiful and locating the b-school in it was an experience.

Stories of festivities in Haas' open area (concrete yard? see pic) and the smiling faces of students imprinted in my brain that it is a happy place. The class itself was fun and interesting as the students were summing up the result of a negotiations simulation. There aren't that many students in the class and this gives somewhat of a more intimate feeling. The professor added to the experience with her energy, smiles and good spirit. She looked like the stereotype of a California girl (no, I don't wish they all could be California girls - because I embrace diversity [I also stated that in one application essay]).

The professor then presented us with a short film created at Google labs where they teach the same class. I found out then that Google actually has their very own Haas MBA program running within the labs(!). The film was quite amusing, simulating negotiations of phone reps with angry customers.

A current student than took us to lunch in their very own grill-restaurant, which served some good ol' American cuisine. You are not entitled to lunch as part of the school visit. We met there some more pleasant Haas students and got to - you guessed it - talk about the school and admissions.

We were then taken to meet student ambassadors and admissions staff who were very kind. Some more prospectives joined the session and I discovered another Israeli there, which was great. There was no real answer for the financial aid issue with Berkeley. There is no loan arranged by the school without co-signers. This fact is extremely important to internationals. It puzzled me that Berkeley does not remedy this when I saw how a friend of mine had to deal with the financial issue with the high cost of living in Berkeley vs. the other offer he had at another ivy league school.

Unfortunately the Haas visit was added to our traveling plans at a short notice and we hadn't managed to meet an Israeli student there. The ambassadors gave us his contact, but due to timing constraints, we only had a phone call that evening after we had arrived to Palo Alto.

That evening, we continued working on our essays for our first application - Darden - as we've done throughout every stop in this trip.
The next day was a visit to Stanford.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Ross Visit

It's a real short ride between Detroit airport and Ann Arbor. Something to keep in mind when considering interviews/conventions you'd want to get to during your two years. We touched base at a motel and met our Israeli MBA2 contact at his apartment. He called on some of the other MBA1's and MBA2's and we ended up sitting in a pub with 4 of them. Nastia (my wife) got a nice big 'X' mark on her hand, since she hadn't brought an ID with her. She was totally flattered by that of course. The Rossies are a fun loving, friendly bunch. Besides the fact that they spontaneously went out with us, they were ready and eager to answer any questions we had. No need to tip toe around the Israelis, so we really got to ask anything.

The next morning we had the class visit. The campus is spread around in buildings in Ann Arbor. The b-school is one of these. The full time program currently occupies the executive residence as far as I understand along with the part time, evening time and BBAs. The new building should be ready for fall of 2009. Until then, it may be a bit overcrowded. At least for my taste. Parking is not offered by the school, so we parked on the street and fed the meeter when it was hungry. There were a few of us visiting class. We got two escorts splitting us into two groups. Unfortunately we got a not so interesting class. Lunch with students was very nice. We had lunch coupons for the cafeteria and we got to ask questions about the school, admissions etc. The students were very kind. We had early dinner plans with the Israeli students so we took a walk around the campus. Luckily it was a perfect, blue sky, sunny September day. As sun is a rare commodity in Ann Arbor, the students take the opportunity and adjust their clothing accordingly. We sat down in a coffee shop and enjoyed the view and perfect weather.

It was really fun meeting up with the Israeli students again. We went to some fast food Italian restaurant and got to talk some more and meet some more of the Israelis.

We said goodbye to Ann Arbor and headed off back to Detroit. Stanford and Berkley are next.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Just Married

Today I celebrated my 1 week wedding anniversary. Yeap, I got married a week ago.
Never viewed myself as the married type, but I guess 95% of all male US MBA students can say that.
Although we managed to pull everything together really quickly (like 3 months) (people here go around planning their wedding for a year or more - and I'm not accounting the plans girls have since they're 3 marrying Barbi and Ken [does Barbi still exist?]), it still was a lot of effort in all the planning and it all just blows away before you can say jack.. or ja.. well it's fast.

Nevertheless I have to admit, this wedding was perfect. The bride was astonishing!

With two witnesses at my side, I joined the Rabbi and signed the 'Ktuba' - a document specifying that I am obligated to feed my bride, make sure she has clothing and... well that she is satisfied. Yes the old traditions thought of that as well (PG-13?) . I put in a sum (the minimum required equals to about $30,000) of money that I agree to pay her in case I leave the house (yes this is legally binding).

We've marched to the sounds of a song from 'pirates of the Caribbean'. Guests were applauding and a rain of soap bubbles fell around us. We each gave a ring. My wife had a memorized fantastically honest, yet incredibly touching speech. She was surprised when I replied with one of myself. I heard later that guests were actually crying. The Rabbi was awesome - funny and witty.

When I broke the glass (Jewish wedding tradition) a song from 'Le-Reve' (the Tree) played.

The food was amazing (so the guests claimed - as expected we did not have time to eat), alcohol flowed freely (as an ex-bartender it was my duty to make sure good alcohol was present). Perhaps this is a good time to mention the amazing photography work done.

As sugar paste cake designers ourselves, we had to have an impressive cake at our wedding and so the masters who taught us the art prepared a cake with the bride and groom wearing graduation hats and cherry blossom branches spread on the cake.

We prepared a dance to the sound of 'Rule the world' by 'Take That'. It was amazing. We checked before (including youtube dance videos) and made sure we were the first ones to use these songs so here - it's documented - from here on the rest are copycats.

After that everyone was dancing or stopping to drink. The DJ built the music according to the feel of the crowd. Sometime later, deserts came (awesome too) and Popsicles appeared in the dancers hands contrasting the warm July evening.

After most guests left the lack of food, and constant dancing assisted the alcohol to charge in my bloodstream and the evening ended strictly according to tradition with the groom completely drunk.

A once in a lifetime experience.

Darden Visit

Last September, my girlfriend (toady my wife) and I set on 3.5 weeks of airport hopping around the USA. We landed in D.C. and after spending a few days at my girlfriend's parents in a suburb of D.C. we headed to our first school visit.
After almost 2 hours of drive we reached the gorgeous Charlottesville. Rumors have it that route 29 is a highway patrol goldmine, but I guess I was driving the speed limit.

We met with a current student in the evening who showed us around town - specifically the downtown mall. We had dinner and talked about school and the application process (surprise!).
We then turned in for the night preparing for the next day's class visit.

The GPS kindly pointed us to Darden blvd. There, surrounded by forest resides the Darden School of business administration.

At the gatehouse we got our parking permit, allowing us to park anywhere in the boulevard. I could feel the history surrounding me as we walked through the great wooden doors. These facilities are actually quite new, but they were built in accordance with the architecture of UVA, which was built by Thomas Jefferson's vision of an academic village. In short - amazing (UVA is a world heritage site BTW).

The visit started with 'First Coffee' - a 50 year tradition - a 9:30 gathering (after first class, which starts at 8:00 - Did anyone say MBA boot camp?) with a fresh, steaming cup and discussions about every topic from academics to hobbies with students and faculty. We were a bit shy and didn't get into any discussions. Networking in US standards is uncharted territory for us. We knew we, like a lot of internationals, had to learn this.

Off to the admissions office, where we received our case and had half an hour to prepare before our escort came to pick us up. This was my first case study ever so I didn't really know what to expect. The case was part of the 'Leading Organizations' course or as students call it - 'LO'.

Our student escorts took us to our separate classes - I was in section B. I kept rehearsing the short introduction of myself that I've prepared. The Israeli culture is very concise and strait to the point. We usually state our first names and current positions. Blabbing about your accomplishments is considered showing off, so speaking about myself in that manner is a skill I was still trying to master. I was somewhere at "My name is Oren..." when the professor asked me to introduce myself. I did so very briefly and that seemed enough. Than I was asked to tell an embarrassing story about myself. I censored the real juicy stories and told a nerdy dry "embarrassing" story because I actually wanted to be admitted to the school. I was finally allowed to sit down and watch the show. Or so I thought. You see, in Darden you don't watch the show. Instead of listening to the professor, you talk. If you listen to someone it would be to another fellow student. And you'd better listen. You can't lose trace of the conversation because you might get cold-called. The class split up to some group discussions for a few minutes and I actually participated, which seemed great at the time. What I didn't know then is that the whole learning experience at Darden comes from self learning, then group learning with your study group (3 hours every night) the rest is completed and polished in class by the 60 students who make your section. The professor is truly merely a facilitator.
There is no real way to transmit the experience of a Darden class. You really have to be there. This is probably why Darden requires that all domestic applicants interview on campus.

After class we were taken to have lunch with current students in the very impressive dinning hall. Food was good (paid for by the school) and the company even better. Darden students are friendly, modest and helpful. I can assume this collaborative, supportive atmosphere comes from the study method.

We were then off to the suburbs of D.C again. The next day held an early morning flight to Detroit. Ann Arbor awaits.
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