Friday, May 21, 2010

A journey towards the Great American Dream - Part 2

I think I must have crossed the great Mr. Murphy (Of Murphy's law fame) in a very bad way in a previous life if ever there was one. I am serious because everything that can go wrong, even the most mundane things just go wrong for me time and time again. In fact, even as I write this, something went wrong today, and even there were a couple of things which went wrong in the past month for me. I won't go into those details here though so as to not go off on a tangent here. Well anyway I should say by now that I am used to it( at least I try to convince myself that I am) and have even started to expect it you can say nowadays as I think it's the way things are destined to happen for me before they fall in place eventually and work out well in the end. Either that or maybe it’s all part of some elaborate and intricate conspiracy where everyone gets together just to mess with my life to see what I would do or just to have fun seeing me struggle. It sounds ridiculous I know, but after reading through my whole journey in this blog, you probably would agree with me that it’s a faint possibility.

You would have thought what a great end to the first blog and after that I must have been really happy at that point of time after getting an awesome GRE score; well I should say my happiness was short lived because of something I will get to shortly once I finish boring you a bit more with my ramblings here. Because maybe the powers that be think that the earth would stop rotating on its axis or the sun would not rise in the east the next day or something like that would happen if I feel happy or satisfied that I have achieved something I guess. I don’t know. Seriously such thoughts keep on occurring to me because the most mundane things just seem to go horribly wrong time and time again for me in addition to other things which obviously go wrong as well for me in the beginning. You see throughout my life to this point, I never got /achieved anything immediately despite my best efforts, I always have been disappointed by the turn of events initially in one way or the other, tasted the bitterness of defeat before cherishing the eventual victory or if not, I just have had to wait a really long time and be really patient when everything seemed really bleak before eventually things worked out very well for me.

So anyway, if you still have patience to keep reading till here, what happened after I got my GRE score was I headed home, told my parents of my score and everything seemed to be great. That was until disaster struck in the form of the post office. (You can see how I started wondering about the conspiracy angle here.)Usually you get your GRE score in the mail within 1-2 weeks I think after you take the test. But that’s for normal people for whom regular things like getting mails happen without a glitch. But in the case of yours truly, how can something as simple as getting your GRE score in your postbox happen? If it’s yours truly, someone has to mess something up for him right, so it happened this time courtesy the post office. Of all the mails they could possibly lose or mess up, they messed up my GRE scores. I waited and I waited and I waited and my GRE score never came. Even though my score was good and valid for the next 5 years, I needed to enclose a photo copy of my official GRE score in each application form that I needed to send out to any university that I applied. And all universities had deadlines, before which applications must be sent in, and usually the US universities have a policy of giving out rolling admissions, i.e if they like a candidate’s application, they admit him and so do not wait for the application deadlines to be over so that they can evaluate each and every application that they receive. So the general rule of thumb when applying for US universities is to usually send in your applications as soon as they start accepting applications which is what I had planned to do. But for my application to be complete I needed to have the GRE score in my hand which I now did not have because it got lost in the mail, or a dog ate it or birds took it and flew away or maybe the conspirators if they exist locked it in some secret safe, only god knows what happened to it. If anyone can get me my lost GRE score sheet, definitely contact me for your reward.

You can imagine how frustrated I was at this point. I had a good score but did not have the official score sheet to show for it and I could not use it for my application. I obviously contacted the post office but they didn’t know what had happened. I called the test centre, called various numbers to find out more info; I think I even called up some international numbers to find out what was going on, all to no avail. Finally somehow I stumbled upon the right number from the many I called and somehow I made them understand the issue and they said they would resend my scores again. I finally got my scores a week or so after that by which time I was a nervous wreck.
Anyway, thinking back, maybe it was the first sign of many from God to me that it was something which I better get used to now because my Journey towards the Great American dream would be full of such events which would stretch/(still continuing to stretch even today) the limits of my patience and tolerance levels.

So finally and happily back on track with my applications, I now had to narrow down the list of universities I had to apply for admission. This is a very difficult task as there are 1000’s of universities in the US and it’s not as simple as applying for the top 20 US universities for your program according to US university rankings, to give you an example, Let’s say If I had gone to one of the top 3 universities in the US (ok I probably would not have got an admit there anyway so it doesn’t matter) I could not have afforded the tuition fees there. So the trick is you have to apply to a mix of top tier universities, some good ones and some lower ranked ones so that you have a breadth of options to choose from as in the worst case you could at least go to a decent low ranked university if all the good ones rejected you.

So I came up with a list, my cousin Vignesh helped me tremendously here with arriving at a final list of universities to apply to and believe me, if you haven’t applied to the US before, this is a very tricky process. You had to pay something in the range of 50 – 100 $ for each application at the time I applied so it was very expensive too to apply and so it was not like I could apply to some 20 30 universities to increase my admit chances. After a lot of research and spamming Vignesh with emails almost every day (he had already moved to the US by then), I finally had a list of 8-10 universities I decided to apply to. So I applied to them and after that the nervous waiting period for hearing back from the universities about my application started.

As usual for yours truly, things have to start badly as a rule of thumb right and so it happened again. My rejects from the universities started coming in thick and fast. 1 university which was my top choice at that time from my application list, (whose name obviously I am not going to reveal here rejected me) and I was truly crushed. I thank god to this day that they rejected me, because if they had not, no matter what other admits I had, I would have gone to that university and I would have simply missed out on this great journey I have taken so far only because they rejected me in the first place. But obviously I did not know how things would turn out in the future at that time and so when I got the reject from this university I had so desperately wanted to study in I was despondent.

But I kept saying to myself, out of my list of applications, I still was waiting for 4 more universities to get back to me. Even if 1 of them gave me an admit, things would work out fine I kept telling myself and one of those 4 was pretty much a slam dunk for an admit as it was a low ranked university and a decent application would almost surely get an admit there. So I decided at the end of the day, even if all the good universities reject me, I would go to this university, I always have that as my safety net or so I thought at the time. But that was until the bombshell came, for reasons I can’t fathom even today, even that university sent me a reject letter. Now I had totally hit rock bottom, if they reject me of all the universities I had applied to, they were possibly the lowest ranked university in my list of applications what hope did I have of getting an admit from the remaining universities on my list ?

My great American dream was fast crashing around me despite my best efforts. And then a little light at the end of the tunnel was visible when I got my first admit, I was thrilled to at last get an admit after the flood of reject letters, but soon getting that admit became even more worse than getting a reject from that university. It was because my chosen field of study in that university suddenly did not inspire a lot of confidence as they did not seem to have a top notch program for that field of study and I also did not have any scholarship grants as well from them to add to that. So I was now facing a very horrible dilemma, I was still waiting to hear back from the final 2 universities in my list, but I had to start making up my mind to prepare for the worst case scenario which was the following: If I got rejects from the remaining 2 universities, should I spend my parent’s hard earned money, take on a huge financial burden by getting an education loan and go for higher studies to a university for a program which I was not sold on completely or should I play it safe and just take up the job offer from a company in Madras that I received the very first day that our on campus recruiting started? To this day I still don’t know which way I would have gone if those were my only options. It was one of the most excruciating decisions that I probably would have had to make. Different people had differing opinions on the matter and there seemed to be no right answer or wrong answer at that point. I was at my wit’s end, and hoped and prayed that something would work out soon.

Things took an even worse turn when 1 university said they had wait listed me which was not as bad as a reject definitely but it was not a sure thing either as I had no guarantee of getting an admit from them and now I was down to the final university on my list. It was all or nothing for me now.If you are familiar with poker terms, I was all in at this point hoping to hit an Ace on the river. Now it was already almost more than a year since I took the GRE exam. All the excitement and joy of getting a good score in the GRE seemed like a lifetime ago now. I still shudder even now when I think of those days when the future was one big question mark. My goal was always to study and work in the US and I had put in my best effort up to that point to achieve that goal. But all that seemed to be going in vain.

Every day when I came home from college, I spent hours in front of the computer for months on end checking my email again and again to see if I would get that 1 awesome admit only to be disappointed with reject letters over and over again. I was at my wit’s end as I soon needed to make an excruciating decision on whether to go to the US to study at that university or stay back and take the job in India neither of which seemed appealing to me actually but those were the only choices I had at that point.

And so time went by until one night when I was still awake as usual sitting and staring at the computer screen and checking my email still hoping for THE EMAIL.
I still remember clearly even today after almost 5 years, it was a little after midnight, everyone at home had gone to sleep except me when I got‘that email’.‘You have been admitted to THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY’s Department of Electrical Engineering for the Master of Science program. Congratulations.’I could not believe my eyes. I read and reread the email over and over again. I still could not believe I got into Penn state, one of the top universities for my program in the US. The next great turning point of my life was upon me just like that. I hurriedly woke up my parents and shared the joyous news with them. IT was such a great moment for me after having faced almost a year of frustration and disappointment and despair. And the icing on the cake was The University was 3 hours from where my cousin Vignesh was staying in the US. After all the help that he had been to me through this long and arduous process, it was great to to be able to go to a University which was close to his place. And I also did not have to make that excruciating decision that I had talked about earlier.

To this day, I am so grateful and happy that I went to Penn State and no other university. A lot of great things which I experienced,learnt and so many other good things which happened were only because I went to Penn State. It’s been now almost 2 years since I went back to Penn State, I badly miss staying at Penn State even today. Those 2 years I studied at Penn State were one of the best times of my life for sure.

Thus the maxim I had talked about earlier in my 1st post happened yet again in my life. Things can go so utterly and horribly wrong time and time again in life that often it would seem like there is no solution in sight but ultimately in the end everything works out very well. Just put in your best effort and leave the rest up to god and be patient and tolerant. Good things take time to happen, Great things take even more time to happen, but you first need to make sure that you are patient, persistent and determined enough to stick around long enough to be there when those things happen.

I pray to God for such great things to happen in your life as well.


The journey to be continued in the next post.....

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A journey towards the Great American Dream - Part 1

I have lived in Madras(I hate the word Chennai BTW) all my life, was born and brought up there.I don't know exactly when but probably sometime when I was in school I decided that I had to go to the US to study.There were shining examples for me to emulate/look up to like my paternal cousins who had followed their dreams to the US and are still in the US even today.I don't want to sound clich├ęd but I wanted to experience a different way of living, gain more exposure and be independent(not just from a financial standpoint alone.) most of all. I found that I hated it to ask my parents for money to spend for all my expenses when I was in college.Unfortunately, there was no other way out then, my net income until the year 2006(The year I graduated from college and came to the US) was zip, zilch and zero.So anyway to not digress too much,the preparations started.

The 1st major turning point in the journey was the GRE.A great GRE score was key in obtaining admission to a top university. So obviously I got the GRE BIBLE Barrons. Going through some 4k words in Barrons was a prerequisite to cracking the GRE, but I was hoping there would be a better way to learn some 4k words, my cousin Vignesh helped me out by giving me the book Norman Lewis-Word power made easy.It was such a delightful book that once you finish reading through the book, learning the thousands of words in Barrons was so much more easier.There was the Analytical writing section and the quantitative section too in the GRE, but I wasn't too much worried about those as the quantitative section was pretty basic and I used to write good essays once upon a time.(This blog unfortunately might be more of a testament to my eroded writing skills though.)

So the preparations went on in full swing and the day of the GRE dawned. I made my way to the Test center in Nungambakkam and started the test.The Verbal section was an absolute cakewalk except for the reading comprehension section which was tricky.But the shocker was the quantitative section,a combination of various things when I was halfway through the quants section made me think that I had blown a major chance I had to get a great GRE score after getting through the verbal section in flying colors(Note the American way of spelling colors here,smirk.) by horribly messing up my quants score, considering a perfect score of 800 was the norm in the quants section, it was downright depressing. I felt sick to the stomach in the middle of the quants section with time running out.My great American dream was being cut short even before it had a chance to begin.I then decided that I might as well minimize the damage to my score and got through the rest of the quants section managing to do much better with the remaining questions, and the section was then soon done. I was expecting a score of 650-680 on 800 in the quants section which was way below par. I hurriedly typed in a few paragraphs in the optional Analytical Writing Section and submitted the test as I was in desperate anxiety to see my GRE score. It was the same feeling I had before I viewed my board exam results during the 10th and 12th standards. And the first important turning point in the journey was in front of my eyes on the computer screen, I had a GRE score of 1520/1600 with 780 in quants and 740 in Verbal.I was stunned, and then exhilarated that all the hard work and preparation had paid off.There are a few moments in life, when you experience unbridled happiness, this was certainly one of those moments for me especially considering how I was feeling an hour ago.

I don't want to sound preachy but I thus got the first taste of an important maxim in life which was to repeat over and over and over with varying degrees in diverse scenarios in my life: Things can go so utterly and horribly wrong time and time again in life that often it would seem like there is no solution in sight but ultimately in the end everything works out very well, Whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger and whatever happens happens for a reason and if you put in your best effort and have faith in god, you will succeed no matter what. And so my journey continued towards the Great American dream with me having no inkling at all at that point of the storms that would soon rage in my path from here on.

The journey to be continued in the next post....