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Friday night we went to a local children's park, Rotary club, and the undergrad business administration gala. 

The first stop was the nursery (plants). I thought of my parents when we visited the nursery. My dad in particular would love the giant palms--like his pet ponytail palms, but these ones are several stories tall.  We met our friends professors Hiren and Bhavesh and their families.  With their kids, we saw the Fish Gar (fish house). It's a building in the shape of a fish, with different aquarium tanks for different types of fish.

We ate supper at the park's restaurant. It turns out it's owned by [pharmacy school dean] JK Patel's brother. The food was excellent. I especially liked their papad (crispy bread wafer), and I don't normally like papad much.  They also made a Hydrabadi biryani which is a brilliant green rice dish that tasted really interesting (it's flavored with cilantro).

It turns out the hospital that treated Michael's broken toe (for $6) is sponsored by the local Rotary International club.  Dr. JK Patel drove us there. He's a member, and he gave Michael the scoop on the Rotary.  Dr. JK Patel introduced us to his Rotary club officers. I think he's wanting to introduce Rotary to Michael.

Michael got his bandage taken off at the Rotary Club hospital. The Rotary sponsors the hospital and other charitable works in Visnagar.  There's a traffic circle around one of their symbols in town.  Dr. JK Patel drove us there and back.  Michael was looking at the analgesic ointment they gave him for the pain, and then Dr. Patel started talking all about its chemical properties. It was great having an expert in the car.

It was late, so we went only briefly to Bhavesh's undergraduate Business Administration welcome gathering. (The BBA degree is part of the engineering school.) That was a quieter affair, though very well-organized. They had a live band that was pretty good.  They also had corporate sponsorship banners from local businesses (including Shukan, our favorite Visnagar restaurant).  They presented us each with a gift pack of flowers. This included Dr. JK Patel, to his surprise; he was still along to give us a ride back so Michael wouldn't have to hobble the 20-minute walk across campus.  For once, Michael didn't dance.
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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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Only one week in, and Michael is a celebrity! It's not at all good. He says he now knows what Harry Potter must feel like.

We were mobbed by MBA students. I've written a separate entry on the good parts of the event.

Michael and I went back to our apartment and changed into our new fancy Indian traditional costumes, "gerba wear".  We arrived back around 9 PM, and sat in chairs at the back of the festival, away from the loud music. A couple students came up wanting to take our picture with their cell phones. That's fine; they don't see foreigners much, and never dressed up like us.  So a few pictures are fine.

Then the couple students turned into a handful.  A few more stopped by to see what was going on.  A student asked Michael for his autograph.  Shrug. Sure, okay.  Then another student pulled out a ten-rupee note and also asked for an autograph.  Soon everyone was doing it, and we were both signing.  The crowd grew to 40 or 50, all pushing and trying to get Michael's autograph (and mine).  We were feeling crowded, and the mass of bodies completely blocked off the light.  The security guards came over and pushed through, and we grabbed our chairs and moved to the edge of the dance tent. 

The dance was okay for a few minutes. One of the female faculty pulled me in to the circle to dance (I failed miserably, but enthusiastically).  I was pouring sweat, so I went and sat down to drink some water for a moment.  The students started gathering around us again, just as before.  It was so bad that my husband, who never dances and had a broken toe, got up and hobbled around the circle once just to get away from them.  I couldn't even see him, ten feet away, because of all the people in between.  Soon after that, we left.  We were only there for about 40 minutes.  We just couldn't stay there.

We mentioned this to our host the next day, and he was very embarrassed. He apologized and politely said, in effect, the MBA students aren't as mature as the undergraduate engineering students and they don't have much sense.  But yes, Michael is a celebrity.  We hope it doesn't happen much again.
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It can't all be perfect.  But at least it's well on it's way.  And the service is still much more responsive than Comcast.  :-)

The good news: the Internet connectivity here, when it works, is reasonably fast.  It's not nearly as fast as our home cable-internet, but it's at least comparable to DSL.  The bad news: It's been up and down for us.  Most of this is our fault for coming in and wanting service in our living quarters. It took them a couple days to get it set up in our guest house apartment, and then we moved to the other side of campus.  To their credit, they connected up our new apartment in half an hour and it was working fine!  Then sometime around noon today it suddenly stopped I'm not sure why; I'm guessing the construction work outside was a factor. (They are building a hospital next door, on the other side of our building.)  Anyway, they fixed it this evening.

It probably helps that Michael and the lead internet/network technician are getting to be pretty good friends.  He and Michael trade Linux tips.  They did a six hour road-trip together today, and visited the place Ghandi started his salt march.  Michael brought home a fully-functional hand cranked spinning wheel that folds to the size of a cigar box. It's ingenious and absolutely gorgeous.

I tried calling my office today via Skype, and it lasted only about 30 seconds before the connection dropped.  It may be something in in our configuration, or the college's authentication may have kicked in or something.  Who knows but it might be as simple as adding Skype credits. :-O  I'll try again tomorrow or the next day after Michael's looked at it.

As a fall-back, as long as it's before 5pm local time I have use of Michael's office; that internet connection seems a bit more reliable. So I have internet for at least 8 or 9 hours a day if I need it (though it may not overlap much with my office's time zone).

Ah well, these are minor complaints. And if it keeps running I'll be happy.
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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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We were literally welcomed with flowers.  Sankalchand Patel College of Engineering (SPCE) is very glad to have Michael here. Our first day was full of welcoming meeetings and greetings.

Thursday night, we flew from Delhi to Ahmedabad--the largest city in Gujarat.  Michael's faculty coordinator, Professor Hiran Patel, was waiting at the airport with a big sign with my husband's name.  He and the driver loaded our luggage into a large Chevy labeled Noonan Dental College (it shares the same campus as SPCE).  Professor Hiren Patel and the driver gave us each a decorated package of flowers as a welcome gift.  We had about a two-hour ride to the campus and Visnagar. Michael and Hiren and I chatted a bit (the driver didn't appear to speak English). I think Hiren was a little surprised that we had been to India before. However, we had been to the tourist sites. Now, we were going to rural Gujarat, where very few non-Indians go. It's almost all new to us.

Our faculty coordinator and personal host, Professor Hiren, is young, enthusiastic, bright, positive, and completely fluent in American English. He is very open and honest, as well as knowledgeable about his culture and ours. Hiren had personally initiated the process of applying to the Fulbright-Nehru scholar exchange program, and pursued it through the two-year application process.  He and the college have never had a visiting foreign scholar before, and they are anxious to make us feel welcome.  Hiren and his family spent a couple years living and working in Birmingham Alabama, so he has experience with the United States; his colleagues regard him as their resident expert on Americans and American culture. Now he teaches networks and security at SPCE; he is the head of the computer engineering and information technology departments as well as running the college's IT services. He is also finishing his PhD dissertation in network security (border gateway protocols). I don't know where he finds the time to help us so much, but we are immensely glad and grateful to have such a warm, tremendously helpful guide.

On Friday morning, the college held a small welcoming reception for Michael. We had coffee and cookies with the college's president. There was a faculty gathering Friday morning, where each of the college's department heads stood and introduced themselves.  They presented us with two more packages of flowers each. I was invited to all of these too, though I mainly sat to the side. The faculty are mainly young men in their mid-30s. The department heads included even the dental and MBA graduate schools. The president and principal are traditional, older men and wear white kurtas and lungis like Gandhi wore. The younger faculty members dress in modern polo or button-down shirts and trousers.

Michael's office is several large desks in one end of their totally modern conference room. They set up a desktop computer for him there too.  Michael's favorite feature is a coffee button, where he can press a buzzer and someone will arrive with fresh Indian chai coffee (made with thickened milk and cardamom/spices). They invited me to telework from there too; I will see how it goes with internet in our apartment.

The campus is stunningly beautiful, with tropical flowers and palm plants everywhere. (I promise to post pictures soon.) We're still in monsoon season, so it's very hot and humid. We have air-conditioned living quarters; more about that later.

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