What a Trip to Walmart Can Teach You

If you have to pay for printing in college, a few weeks into classes, you realize that it costs more than a printer and ink. At least I felt so. So I ordered a printer on Walmart (Walmar was cheaper than Amazon).Since door delivery takes a week more than in-store pick up, I went to Walmart to bring my brand new printer home today. Here’s what I learnt on this trip. Some of them are lessons that even an Ivy League education cannot impart.

1) Don’t let the number of brands and options distract you. Just buy what you want.

All I needed was a stack of printing paper. When I finally found the aisle with printing paper, guess what I found? Racks and racks of printing paper of different brands and prices ranging from $2.89 for 500 pages to $7.59 for 300 pages. Then there infinite types of paper.There was “Basic Paper”, three kinds of “Standard Paper”, “Premium Paper” and “Super Premium Paper”. And oh, “30% Recycled Standard Paper”. They all had different brightness values. Wait, I’m not buying lamps, am I?

I must have spent at least 15 minutes trying to decide which paper to buy. I also had a bus to catch in 30 minutes. Finally, it came down to the price and I chose the standard paper. I could have made this decision in the first 20 seconds if I hadn’t been distracted by the myriad of options.

2) You don’t have to buy larger packs just because there are larger packs (of anything)

After the paper dilemma, I headed over to the “Beauty and Wellness” section to buy about 3 bars of bathing soap. I found racks full of Dove soap. There were in packs of 2,3,6 and 10. The larger the pack, the lesser is the price per unit. I considered buying the pack of 10 bars. But I didn’t need so many.

Coming from India, where shampoo sachets are in sold even in tiny Rs.3 packets, I cannot help but ask –  what is it with America and large portions?! Yet, I bought the pack of 6 bars of soap. I almost regret it now. What if I don’t like this soap?

3) Know how your bank account/credit cards work. 

With 10 minutes until the bus arrived, I got my items billed.

Last month, I was proud of myself for opening a bank account and getting my debit card, all by myself. So instead of paying in cash, I was going to use my card for the first time. I swiped my card at the billing counter. It said, “Enter your pin”.

I did not remember the pin. And I did not have enough cash to pay for it all. So I told the employee that I did not remember my pin. She asked me to choose “credit”. I said my account did not have a credit card associated with it. How could I buy something on credit? She said, just swipe it. I did. And my bill was paid.

I walked out wondering what had just happened. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as stupid as I did then. Does Cornell offer a 1 credit course on personal finance? I definitely need it. Tomorrow, I have to go to a teller at my bank and figure out how my “credit” works. Oh, and I came back and looked up my card’s pin.

4) You  may think you know the TCAT bus system, but you really don’t.

I made it on time to catch the bus back to campus. I was carrying a printer and two light polythene bags. It wasn’t heavy, just  bulky to carry. During the 30 minute bus ride, I made a mental schedule for the rest of my day. When the bus stopped at my usual stop, I didn’t get off. I figured that the next stop, Jameson Hall, would be closer to my dorm.

But the next stop was not Jameson Hall. It was somewhere off campus, beyond a hilly road and what not. Twenty minutes later, I ended up at the Ithaca Airport. I got off there, waited another twenty minutes for the bus back to Cornell. On the bright side, this blog post was conceived during that time! I also met a student at the Tompkins Cortland Community College and gained a different perspective of being a student in Ithaca. (And I’m sure that student didn’t expect to find himself in a blog post.)

I reached campus after another twenty minute ride. I dragged my up to my dorm room, perched upon my bed and typed this blog post about my big Ithacan adventure.

P.S.: I’m glad I’m taking full advantage of my free bus pass this year.

Suit Up: It’s the Career Fair

In the last two days, the shorts and tshirt wearing student population suddenly transformed into business executives in formals. At any given time today in central campus, you could spot at least ten students in suits, with a folder full of resume copies. Welcome to Career Fair Fall 2013.

With the abundance formally dressed students, signs pointing towards the career fair and conversations starters such as –

“Why are you so dressed up?”

“Are you going to the career fair?”

“Oh, when is the career fair?

This event is hard to miss. So this morning, I wore formal pants and a black sweater over a collared,crisp shirt and decided to attend the fair. As most of the experience I listed on my resume seemed silly to me, I did not bother to print copies of my resume. Anyway, it would be ridiculous to expect to bag an internship opportunity the first time I set foot in a career fair in my freshman year.

As I entered Barton Hall, where the fair was held, perhaps I looked overwhelmed. There were numerous stalls and a swarm of students dressed in black and white. An employee of Cornell’s Career Services sensed my hesitation and called me over. He advised me to “get a name tag, walk around, take a look at the companies and if any of them interest you, go talk to them. It’s not an issue that you’re a freshman.”

That little encouragement along the way seemed to be just what I needed. I felt under-dressed and purposeless amid the students in suits with resumes in hand and job offers on their minds. But I managed to navigate through the maze in Barton Hall and  inquire about internships at some of the tech companies present there.

I also happened to run into some classmates. For most of us freshmen, the career fair was just a new experience. We didn’t expect anything out of it, but the free goodies didn’t hurt. If not an internship, a free water bottle is enough consolation right now. Never mind the company name and logo on it.

At Amazon’s stall, the representative said to a group of freshmen, “Most of our interns are rising seniors. You can submit your resume, but if you don’t make it, don’t worry. You can always come next time.” That sentence was  the highlight of my experience at the career fair. By the next major career fair, I hope to have some marketable skills on my resume and a few more formal outfits in my closet.

Just 3200 Freshmen?

That’s Bailey Hall!

My high school class had a total of 140 students. Each of my classes had an average of 30 students. When I decided to attend Cornell University, one of my major concerns was the large undergraduate population. I mean, compare 120 to 3200.  Adding on, there were many Facebook and blog posts about classes like Intro to Psychology or Oceanography, which take place in Bailey Hall and have an army of TAs. I did not like the idea of a class with 400 students.

But I was in for a surprise. I am taking five classes this semester, of which four of them have 30 or fewer students per class. In Elementary Spanish I, there are 16 students. In my Freshman Writing Seminar, there are 18 students. In Calculus II, there are 30 students. In Intro to Acting, there are 16. My instructor/professors in all these classes know my name, although we have only had one week of classes.

In my Intro to Programming with Python lectures, there are about 200 students. However, our professor is a very effective lecturer. The lectures and lively and hold your attention. The material is easy to follow as well.

So, surprisingly, my classes at Cornell are smaller and more engaging than those at high school. My first semester at college has had a good start. I have to wait and see if it lasts. (Fingers crossed!)

P.S.: Within one week of Elementary Spanish, we’re already writing diary entries in Spanish. I’m lovin’ it! 😀

Being New on The Hill

It has been ten days since I arrived at Cornell. It has been ten days of ‘life on the hill’. While I would love to claim that I have settled into college life, I have not. Being in a new place with few familiar faces around is a challenge for me. Given the size of Cornell’s campus and student body, it is easy to feel lost in the beginning. The elaborate maps, bus system and friendly people help when I’m physically lost. But not much helps when I feel socially or emotionally lost.

One night, I left my room to fill my water bottle with warm water from the bathroom sink. I was told that it is safe to directly consume tap water in the United States, unlike in India. I met a middle aged woman in the bathroom. All it took was a ‘hello’ from my side. She was the mother of a sophomore student in my residence hall. When she heard that I wanted warm water, she offered to boil water for me in her daughter’s kettle. She did that and even poured it into my bottle for me. She talked to me about my home and family. She empathized with my mother, “how hard it is to send a daughter so far away for college!” Then she recommended that I buy a similar kettle because it will be convenient and safer.

Although our interaction was brief, I was touched by it. It was the first time I felt cared for by another person on campus. It gives me hope that eventually, I am going to find a family of friends and mentors at Cornell. Eventually, I will feel at home here.