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Wrap Up August 15, 2011

Posted by sangitasharma in Travel Log.
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After 36 hours, three separate airplanes, two layovers, and five extremely gross airplane-meals, I am finally back home in the good ol’ U.S. of A. It’s great to be back; I’ve missed my family and friends. (And I’ve definitely missed American plumbing!)

This experience has been absolutely amazing. Everything, from riding in an Autorickshaw to work (and trying to communicate with the Auto drivers!) to eating at McDonald’s to watching the last Harry Potter movie has been so exciting. (Sidenote: movie theaters in India have more security than airports in the U.S. And they have the unfortunate habit of sticking intermissions in the most inconvenient of times.)

At the beginning of the summer, the simplest of tasks to a lot of effort, simply because of the language barrier. Now I feel like a pro. Navigating the streets of Bangalore, ordering food from street carts, and flagging down Autos are no longer the daunting tasks they once were.

Living in another culture is incredible; living with another work environment is another experience entirely. I’ve worked in labs before, but I haven’t spent too much time in an Aerospace Lab. And I’ve never spent time in a lab outside of the U.S. This summer has made me reevaluate my career goals. I know now that I have to return to this international environment.

I am so thankful to the PS Program and the Fleet Scholarship for enabling me to work in India this summer. While working and learning about the Aerospace field, I learned so much about my native culture, and I learned so much about myself.

“Wictuals” July 1, 2011

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India is a foodie’s paradise. Meal times are an extremely important part of Indian daily life, and at any given time, restaurants and chaat shops are brimming with people standing around and eating or drinking a cup of chai. (Even at IISc, you are more likely to find people at the canteen or around the coffee cart as opposed to their actual offices.)

I don’t know if I’m being biased, because Indian cuisine is my comfort food and eating these dishes sends me straight back to childhood, but the food here seems better. It’s all certainly cheaper, but the food is fresher; the vegetables are greener. The soda is made with real sugar. Even the ice cream tastes like it has more flavor.

As a vegetarian in the carnivorous U.S., I’ve developed the ability to quickly find the single vegetarian item on any restaurant menu. But I don’t need that super-power here. McDonald’s menu is filled with Aloo Tikka Burgers and Grilled Paneer Wraps while Pizza Hut (or “Pijja” Hut, as I like to call it; Kannadiga’s use -J’s instead of -Z’s, and they mix up their -V’s and -W’s quite regularly)is known for its Cream of Mushroom Soup and Masala Tomato Pasta alike. The food carts that line the streets offer freshly roasted peanuts, spicy bhel puri, or ripe, juicy fruit, while the slighter cleaner stalls house trays of piping hot idlis and masala dosas.

Needless to say, I’ve tucked in with gusto. Every meal time is the chance to explore a new restaurant or try a new item. I’m eating fresh mangos and pomegranates every day, and I’ve already figured out which stalls serve the best Gobi Manchurian or Sev Puri and which shops have the cheapest ice cream.

My food experience has certainly been as rewarding as my work experience.

I’m not entirely sure how I’ll be able to go back to eating at Brittain or even the new NAA dining hall.

-June 30th

Wedding! July 1, 2011

Posted by sangitasharma in Travel Log.
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Indian weddings are elaborate affairs; they can last up to a week and involve many ceremonies, traditions, and rituals. Thousands of people don their finest silk saris and their most dazzling pieces of gold jewelry to celebrate the joining of two families.

I’ve attended Indian weddings in the US, but those weddings were abridged, spark-notes versions, with only the essential ceremonies, like exchanging garlands, taking seven steps, walking around a fire, and the toe-ring ceremony. This wedding had poojas and rituals I’d never heard of: looking at constellations, playing board games, and getting fanned and fed chocolates. But it was interesting to learn about the nuances of a Hindu wedding and to learn about the symbolism behind seemingly random traditions.

But more than learning about my culture and heritage, I appreciated the opportunity to meet so many people. Of the over 1200 people in attendance on any given day of the wedding, I was related to at least 70% of the people.  (And after my cousin and her husband were actually married, I suppose I was related to everyone there.) Tracing family trees with random people to find common ancestors is a surprisingly fun game, and I especially loved talking to people my own age about the differences between college-life in India and the US.

There is never a dull moment when there are thousands of people to talk to, but feeding these thousand people for a week is another matter entirely. Come meal time, chairs are quickly stacked away and long mats are rolled across the floor. Banana leaves are arranged in rows as people sit down to eat. (For the record, sitting down cross-legged while wearing a sari is a lot harder than it looks.) Once everyone is seated, men carrying large vats of rice and curries and vegetables start running up and down the rows, dumping mounds of food on everyone’s banana leaves. For the next forty-five minutes, people hunch over their leaf, eating as quickly as possible, pausing only to ask for more food – or to try stopping the servers from putting more food on their plate. Late at night, after the majority of the guests have gone home, the family members spend hours chopping buckets of cucumbers and squashes and vegetables-whose-English-names-I-don’t-know in order to prepare for the next day.

Between staying up late to slice vegetables and getting up early the next day so as not to miss the auspicious time for a ceremony, I haven’t had much sleep for the past few days. But I have had an absolute blast. Watching my cousin get married, I’ve learned so much about my heritage. I’ve dressed up in beautiful silks and ornate gold, I’ve feasted on dozens of courses of mouthwatering food, I’ve practiced my Kannada and caught up with cousins and aunts and uncles that I haven’t seen for years.

Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend the later portions of this wedding – I do have to get back to Bangalore and my work – but I am really glad I had the chance to be a part of even a piece of the festivities.

-June 22nd

Weekends June 29, 2011

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The wonderful thing about work is that when you are done with work, you are done. No homework; no studying for tests; no reading pages and pages of dry textbooks. At the Institute, I have lots of work to do and am always kept busy, but once I come home, my time is mine. In the evenings, I can go shopping or watch a Bollywood movie or eat at a Chaat shop.

The weekends are even better.

My weekends have been devoted to eating fresh jalebi, browsing through beautiful silk saree shops, and visiting elaborate temples. As I eat a fresh snack or wander through an old temple, I am reminded of how rich this culture is – and how far away I am from Atlanta and Tech. The work I am doing at IISc is wonderful, but what I truly love about this work-abroad experience is that I am learning so much about Indian culture. For the first time, I am in India by myself, and I love the freedom that I have to explore India.

This past weekend, I met up with Urvashi and Ankita, two international students at Tech that grew up in Bangalore. It was great to see them in their element, showing me around the city and talking about how they spent their childhood here. We walked up and down MG road and eventually ended up at Bangalore Central, a mall that has stores, a market, and even a club!

Tech’s international student population is large and active. They are also extremely well-connected in their home-country. Spending time with Urvashi and Ankita was wonderful, and it gave me some insight into the lives of international students.

-June 6th

Work June 29, 2011

Posted by sangitasharma in Travel Log.
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I am now into my second week of work at the Aerospace Department of IISc, Bangalore. It’s been incredible.  The campus itself is huge – spanning over 7 acres, it’s filled with looming trees, bright green shrubbery, and large stone buildings. Dogs and monkeys share the streets with pedestrians, scooters, and auto-rickshaws.

As scenic as the exterior campus may be, the atmosphere inside the buildings is largely reminiscent of Tech. The lab I work at operates much like the labs back home; the familiarity of it is wonderful. I am working on a project that involves the fatigue life of Rotor Yokes, and I am working with three other interns. We work hard, but we manage to find plenty of time to surf facebook, chat about the latest cricket game or Bollywood movie, and explore campus. I really like the people I work with; they’re incredibly brilliant, but they’re also fun to hang out with.

Interestingly enough, I recently met a Post-Doc-Fellow here who considered getting his PhD at Georgia Tech under Professor Dewey Hodges. Professor Hodges is my undergrad academic advisor. This unexpected, seemingly random connection made me realize how well-known Georgia Tech is on the global stage.  I did not expect to be able to talk about various Tech professors with students here, but I was pleasantly surprised. I knew Tech had an international reputation for excellence, but I didn’t understand the extent until I came here, to IISc.

I’ve fallen into a comfortable routine of going to work during the day and relaxing or wandering around the neighborhood in the evenings. I am also now comfortable enough with my Kannada that I think I will start venturing further from home. Hopefully I have some exciting stories to share soon!

-June 2nd, 2011

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