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Our first event was full of strange prayers, speeches, and us in funny clothes.  This covers the fun parts.

The MBA program held its annual welcome/awards/festival event, "Blossoms 2009", on Sunday.  Michael was the Chief Guest of Honor. I was also one of the other Guests of Honor; five total, also including the university's Principal, the Director of the MBA school, and an older gentleman.  They had asked us to dress in our Indian wear.  Turns out, Michael was the only man there in a traditional Indian kurta pajama; the elder men were in button-down shirts and slacks.  At least several of the female faculty were dressed like me in salwar kameeze.

The time was "Indian Stretchable Time".  It was planned to start at eleven; they picked us up at 11:20 and we were drinking tea beforehand with the honored guests for probably half an hour.  Then we all went out as a group.

They started with a prayer - a ten-minute song, chanting in either Hindi or Gujarati (I still can't tell the difference in speech). Then they immediately read from Genesis 1:1-4 ("let there be light"), and all five of us honored guests lit an oil lamp to symbolize the light illumination provided by knowledge.  Then came the speeches, at least one in incomprehensible-to-us Gujarati.  We honored guests handed out the awards for the previous semester. The academic awards were almost all won by girls; a few boys won awards for extracurricular sports.  Michael gave the official launch of their new Web site and their brand-new English Language curriculum, "Learn English with Fun and Joy".

Michael's speech was excellent. His theme was that India today is the right place and right time to be a student entering the work force. He spoke of the increasingly close ties between the US and India, and how his personal view of India changed over time. In childhood, he had visions of India as a magical land of Maharajas and elephants. Then in graduate school, his advisor and all his lab-mates came from India, and he learned more about its real culture. Michael talked about technology and its importance, and the value of tinkering and invention.  He told the MBA students to seek out the nerds and get to know them and the technology.

They asked me to speak too. My speech was hastily thrown together, and it didn't help that I somehow missed a page of it and had to ad-lib. I greeted them as a fellow student for a master's degree in [Information] Management, and tried to tell them a bit about my background in information/systems engineering and IT project management. I was nervous and over-caffeinated, and probably came off as rambling a bit. Between the echo in the microphone and the language barrier, I'm not sure anybody understood much anyway, since English is a third or fourth language for most of the students.

As presents, they gave us "Gurpa dress" - fancy special-occasion attire for Indian festivals and weddings.  Mine is a fringed turquoise dupatta (sash/scarf) worn over a heavy, spangled two-piece choli (short top), and a skirt in purple/gold/turquoise, all covered in silver beads and sequins. Michael's outfit is much plainer, a simpler gold-colored kurta-pajama with a long red-and-gold silk stole. He looks very handsome in it.  The female faculty also helped me dress and do my hair, and one of the alumnae there (Ishita) made a present of an elaborate metal necklace and forehead-bob.

The student talent show was fantastic.  There were several phenomenal dancers and singers, and a couple group skits/dances to Bollywood tunes complete with choreography and elaborate costumes.  We need to make sure to see more live entertainment and dancing while we're here.  Only the stand-up comedy parts were lost on us, since we don't know Gujarati.

The dance was the capstone to the event.  This is India; dancing is a Very Big Deal here. The female faculty attempted to teach me how to dance a very simple, three-step Gujarati circle-dance. Now, I do not dance. Ever. (I need that icon, "Overly Caucasian--do not place on dance floor.") I told them I don't know my right from my left; they didn't quite believe me until they saw me.  Indian children grow up with Bollywood movies, memorizing all the choreography and dance moves. Dance is tied to religion here; many girls have dance lessons from a young age.  Michael and I were already the center of attention and it was kind of expected.  So I got in the circle and tried to dance. I failed miserably; I have neither rhythm nor coordination.  Professor Hiren Patel's wife, Chandtra(sp?), jumped in next to me and helped show me what to do, despite her four-year-old clinging to her. I tried to mimic her and did marginally better.  At least I tried to take advantage of the opportunity; no regrets.  Michael also hobbled along one lap around the dance circle, but I couldn't see him due to the press of people.
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The Indian collegiate system here is very different from the US. At American colleges and universities, usually a single professor writes the syllabus, projects, homework assignments, and exams for a course; and the same professor teaches the class. That professor chooses what topics to teach and adjusts as needed; there might be some key concepts the department wants, but the subject matter is really up to the instructor. That sort of academic flexibility is not common here in Indian engineering schools, except possibly at IIT.  I think that was the biggest surprise to Michael.

Grading at Sankalcand Patel College of Engineering depends heavily on standardized final exams for each subject, given at the end of each term. SPCE is part of a consortium of a half-dozen engineering colleges and universities.  Most of each student's course grade is determined by his/her performance on the final exam, and the exams are developed separately by an independent examination board. Consequently, the subjects really need to teach to the tests.  Faculty at SPCE typically team-teach, with two or more faculty teaching each course's  "theory" lectures, plus lab instructors.  All students in a given year and major take the same classes together.  In computer engineering here, there are about 120 students per class. The classes are divided into smaller sections or "batches" for the more practical lab sessions, about 30 or 40 students per batch.

Scheduling the teaching will be interesting.  As I mentioned in previous posts, their semesters don't line up with the traditional Fall/Spring semesters at US colleges.  It didn't help that Michael had to wait for 4 weeks after his visa was approved. Those dates were more convenient for us, but the main SPCE semester ends in mid-October. They are still working him into the schedule on a supplemental basis.  He is supplementing Artificial Intelligence, Operating Systems, and Parallel Processing. The current faculty will continue teaching their course material and will cover the standardized exam topics.  Michael will cover specific extra topics in each course, that he feels would be good additions to the existing material.

Michael will also likely give some workshops and seminars, especially starting late October. The college plans to invite faculty from other institutions, and possibly some students too. He and Hiren worked out a list of teaching and seminar topics on Friday and Saturday.

The work week here is six days, Monday through Saturday, and faculty teach a certain number of hours per week.  The engineering class times range from 10 AM to 5 PM. There is a half-hour break for lunch.  A majority of the students stay in "hostels" (dormitories) on campus.  Some additional students stay off-campus, and commute from the surrounding areas.

The engineering college has fewer female students than male students; I think it's not as bad a ratio as it is in the US, but it's still about a two-to-one ratio. The girls sit separately, too; female students cluster together at the front of one half of the classroom, and male students on the other half and behind them.  They also have separate dormitories ("hostels") and eat at a separate dorm cafeteria ("mess").

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