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Live and exclusive from UIowa!

Fifteen days ago, back in India, I had imagined myself sitting by the Iowa River and writing a blog. Fifteen days from then, I’m doing exactly that! There’s so much that has happened in the past 10 days that before it could get too difficult for me to keep track of the happenings, I decided to blog it out.
We were departing from Bangalore on the 10th of May, 2012. I flew down from Ahmedabad to Bangalore to be received by Suma and Hiras, a  fellow participant in the program, at the airport. We were treated to a sumptuous Italian dinner at the UB City Mall by Suma and Jen that evening. This was the first time I was meeting them in person. Before this, I could only imagine them every time I called or mailed them! Two of the most wonderful women who’ve made this program happen to us! We went to the international airport to be met by the fellow participants who we’d be travelling with. We did our good byes at the airport and left for Abu Dhabi in the Etihad airlines.
This, being my first transoceanic experience, was the most amazing one! I could feel the butterflies in my stomach! I don’t remember much of the flight experience since it was a night journey and I got up only to know we’d landed at Abu Dhabi. I’m amazed at how well all six of us, four boys and two girls, immediately got along during the halt in Abu Dhabi!
Let me introduce you to my colleagues in the program.  There’s Shriya (I’m sure you must have read our beautiful experiences in her blog by now!) Both of us study in the Symbiosis Law School, Pune. Then there’s Jayanth, Santosh, Dhanush and Hiras. All of them are  management students at the renowned PES College of Bangalore.
The stop at Abu Dhabi was a short one. We immediately went for the security check-in to board the flight for O’Hare. The Etihad flight from Abu Dhabi to O’Hare was long but a very memorable one! Luckily, Shriya and I had gotten the bulkhead seats. We had a good time walking around, talking to random people, watching movies and chatting on our way to knowing each other well! The boys teased us for flirting with the air-hostesses on board! (Oops!)
After the 16-hour journey, we landed at O’Hare and went through the whole 2-hour complex process of the customs and immigration to be met by Corey Petersen, our program co-ordinator at the UIowa. I met my relatives from Chicago who’d come to see us at the airport! Corey then took us to Panera Bread for a quick dinner. I still remember the proud moment when I made my first payment in dollars and got it correct! (Yeah, well, little things like these matter a lot when you do them for the first time; there’s more of it to come!) We drove down to Cedar Rapids and checked into the Holiday Express Inn for a night’s stay. The next day, Corey drove us to Iowa City. We were amazed by the beauty of this place! We finally saw the Old Capitol Building that till now we’d only seen on Google Images and talked about! We checked in the Iowa House Hotel. It’s around this time that the graduation ceremony had been held. So we could see a lot of proud parents clicking pictures of their sons and daughters in their academic regalia. It’s later that evening that we met the man behind all the action that brought us to US, Girish! We went for a short walk around the campus and identified the building we had our classes in; the Gilmore Hall for the Marketing studies, the Schaeffer Hall for Globalization and the Main Library for  Studies on Feminism. We were taken aback by the extravagance of the campus. The best part was when we talked to Girish over coffee and he told us about his life and experiences. I’m a huge fan of his since that day! We dined at Chipotle that evening and on our way back to the Hotel, we talked on a variety of topics: globalization, economy, history, education system in India and USA and much more.
This had become like a routine for the whole weekend then: meeting Girish after breakfast, listening to his experiences, discussing prevalent issues, touring on campus and of course, exploring new places for meals and coffee. During the weekend, we planned on going on a trip to New York for the long weekend. Girish was extremely supportive about this; he helped us with most of the bookings (We’re looking forward to the trip now; keep reading for more!)
Then comes the big day: Monday, the first day of our classes. Trust me when I say, I felt like a kid going to school on the first day. Like a very disciplined child, I got up 2 hours before class, called my parents back home, got ready, had breakfast and walked down to class with butterflies in my stomach. I could immediately recognize my Professor since I’d already googled her before (Yeah, curiosity makes you do this!) So we had an introductory session ( a very poetic one) and I was amazed to hear that my Professor loves playing soft music while we’re at work and occasionally plays a fiddle too! After a fun experience on my first day at class, we were taken to lunch by this very interesting Environmental Policy and Law Professor called Raj. He came across to me as a visionary; someone with a very interesting perspective on every idea that came up (and I really admire that about him!) We then met Girish who was going back to Minneapolis. All of us missed him, that evening especially; our days that were filled with a lot of creative discussions and fun experience sharings by him were suddenly void! But we knew he wasn’t far away and that he’d be in touch.
On a Monday evening, on our way back to the hotel after dining at this Indian restaurant called India cafe, we did the most amazing thing ever! We saw a group of people sitting by the streets carrying bags full of instruments that made a variety of sounds. Anybody who was it interested ( and by anyone, I mean ANY BODY) could pick up one of the instruments and add his or her bit of tune and rhythm to the music that was going on. I put up my status on the BlackBerry Messenger as “Playing music on the streets…Literally! Ah, well, at least till the cops are here!” And I had friends asking me what exactly I was up to! That evening was very memorable!
We carried on with our classes for the days that followed; every day we made it a point to explore at least one new place. Our meals were filled with a variety of cuisines, Italian one day, Mexican the next day, Chinese the other day, Mediterranean on the day that followed, Thai the next day and so on. Occasionally, Corey would come see us and ask if we needed anything. On one of the days, we visited the ISSS (International Students and Scholars Services) at the Old Capitol Mall to get done with our registration process. We met a few graduate students there who told us about the University and their stay there.
Let me share this wonderful experience I had in class the other day. As a part of our assignment, we were asked to fix up a lunch meeting with a friend and discuss our assignment over it. I told my Professor, I didn’t really know people here. She asked if anyone in class would accompany me and voila! There were a bunch of people willing to help me with the assignment over lunch even though they didn’t know me. This is what I like most about this place: people here are so friendly and willing to help all the time! I met this colleague over lunch and we had a good time discussing the assignment and a few things here and there.
On one of the days (a Thursday, I guess) I did laundry! What’s the big deal? It IS a big deal. Like I said before, when you’re in an altogether different country, every little thing you do is an experience in itself. I’ve never fed 75 cents to a machine back in India to get a soap detergent out of it. Nor have I fed $1.50 to a washing machine to wash my clothes. Never before, have I stood by the clothes dryer fearing it would explode and burn all my clothes! So it was like an experience in itself.
In the meanwhile, the guys planned a trip to Chicago for the first weekend while Shriya and I decided to stay back in Iowa and asked Corey and Girish to help us plan our weekend. Corey listed quite a lot of tourist places of attraction while Girish informed us about the events (I don’t know how he manages to pull out a list of answers to all our questions in a jiffy, sitting there in Minneapolis!) So while the guys are at Chicago exploring the Shedd Aquarium, the Millenium Park, the Ledge and other places, here’s what Shriya and I do: we go out early that evening, grab a cup of coffee from the Wedge and sit in one of those benches on the street watching people!  It was fun doing that! Later, we went around window shopping, dining at Shorts and walking back home discussing “why boys should have all the fun!”
The Saturdays in May-October are one of the days when the Iowa City Farmers’ Market is put up at the Chauncey Swan Parking Ramp. Shriya and I dressed up and left for E. Washington Street (Now that I understand what is where, let  me flaunt a bit!) It was a beautiful place with lots of people around. There were stalls everywhere with owners selling their cultural delicacies, annual harvest, jewellery, clothes, and garden plants! We walked around the place and tried pronouncing the names of a few delicacies. Oh! Here’s something interesting that we saw in the Market. We came across this stall where a mixer functioned with a bicycle dynamo. So whoever paddled the cycle, ran the mixer and got treated to a fresh strawberry milk shake! After the Market, we went shopping (no window shopping this time!) to these stores around the Market and came back to know the guys would be arriving this evening.
And now, while I sit by the river, blogging, I can already see them walking towards the Hotel. So I guess, this is it for now. I’ll go meet these people, know their Chicago experience and see if they get jealous listening to ours! Keep watching this space, there’s a lot more to come!

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