First Mid-Semester Break in the States!

With the last few weeks of the semester draining the energies out of every student, I was fairly excited for the winter semester break screaming a trip to the warm and beautiful state of California (Christmas was near!!).

As an international student experiencing the dreary cold of Rochester for the first time, I had been looking forward to this break for months now. As much as I was grateful for my remarkable semester back in the university, I was in desperate need of a break away from the harsh weather and the tedious routine.

I landed at the San Francisco International Airport after a long 6-hour flight from Chicago but was astonished at how un-chilling the weather was in the state as compared to back in Rochester. I was going to stay with my cousins in Milpitas, situated in the Silicon Valley which is almost an hour away from the city of San Francisco and a few miles out from the headquarters of companies like Google and Microsoft.

Twin Peaks

I had planned on visiting several of the state’s most famous attractions with my family and we started the trip off with a surprising visit to Walmart!! so that we do not run out of food whilst lying in bed until noon!

The cities of Santa Clara and San Jose held some of the most amazing Christmas decorations and were on top of our lists for the places to visit during the break. The most famous among them was a place called ‘Christmas in the Park’ located in downtown San Jose; it truly was a great way to experience the American Christmas first hand. The next few days involved some paint-balling, exploring small cafes in the neighboring regions of Santa Clara and San Jose and spending our nights at Dave and Buster’s amidst great food and arcade games. Our thirst for ‘Places with the best Christmas festivities’ took us next to Santana Row (an upscale mixed-use development center consisting of retail, office space, residential, lodging and commercial district of West San Jose) which housed some of the most amazing cafes that screamed Christmas!

Situated in downtown San Jose

Christmas in the Park

The next destination on ‘Trip California’ was the beautiful city of San Francisco. The ride through the valley was one of the most beautiful ones I had ever experienced, leading us to our first and the most obvious stop: The Golden Gate Bridge. An icon of the bay area, the bridge spreads over a mile and its dusky golden reflections make you realize how much you miss color until all you’ve seen is white glistening snow for over a month.

The other destinations we covered in the city were Twin Peaks, desserts at the famous Ghirardelli Square, Lombard Street, Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf (for the famous Boudin bakery!), Financial District and ended the night with some ice skating at the renowned Union Square.

The Ghirardelli Square

Union Square

The entire trip was rimmed with bubble baths, the comfort of home-cooked Indian food with the family, the delicacies served in small pretty cafes of nearby counties and beautiful warm pink sunsets.

This amazing trip to the west filled me with a positive determination and excitement for the coming semester back at the university!

More Than A Capstone

by Mudit Pasagadagula, Electrical Engineering MS student 

A fact for everything is that there is a start and there is an end. At least that’s what our biologically evolved logic tells us. That also happens with a student enrolled in a graduate program too. A lot of times it ends with some creative works graduate students come up with, the capstone project. It is a wonderful way to complete a graduate degree.

Working on something new, designing something amazing, coming up with a new theory or a possible explanation of some physical phenomenon and other similar things done in a final project sure sounds interesting but they are what projects are meant for. But signing up for a capstone project offers us more opportunities of learning than we think it does. There are many hidden perks of working on a project.

One of these opportunities is being friends with you adviser. It is always nice to know people and learn what they have offered this world. What I’ve learnt till now from my graduate school experience is that every professor is a unique knowledge offering machine with learnings that you cannot find anywhere else. It is a great experience working under a professor. But the most amazing part of it is the vision and attitude you develop towards life. And this happens through listening to a few of the countless anecdotes from their life, knowing about the decisions they made, getting aware of their curiosities and learning how they approached it.

If you are the physical body of your academic work, your adviser is the soul of it. And when these two things get along in a constructive way, amazing things can be achieved.

Five Reasons Why: US Education

by Abhisek Dey, Computer Engineering MS student

If you are expecting this blog to be another clichéd post raving about how advanced, revolutionary, and state-of-the-art higher education in the US is – it is not. It is meant to be a dissection of my experiences outside the classroom for the better part of a year that has led me to morph into a better person. Most international students come here for a world-class education and some want to stay back for the proverbial cherry-picked life and the fat paychecks. I came here for the same reasons too but if I do decide to stay here, it would be for the great people around me, diversity in ideas, freedom to express myself in every way and the opportunity to make a noteworthy difference in the lives of everyday people. Now, let’s dive in.

Decisiveness – In my opinion, the most important quality that I could acquire. It taught me to always be open to a new train of thought and never be afraid to try new things. We are only limited by our fears and tactless indecision. Try out a new sport – something you have never seen before. Try out an exotic cuisine. If you like it, try to make it yourself. See how far you can push yourself.

Break those walls – Appreciating everyone for who they are and acknowledging that there is always a bigger picture to everything. If you really want to be a well-rounded person, understanding why some people or somethings work differently than you are accustomed to would be the first step. Never be afraid to initiate a conversation with someone totally different from you. You might find you have so many things to talk about over a nice cold beer! The only thing worse than failure is never trying.

Respect and equality – Treat others the way you want to be treated. Everyday out here reinforces this idea in me. You will never be singled out for what you decide to wear, eat, talk about or who you love. Race, age, occupation, sexual orientation, special challenges are a way to divide us rather than bring us together. I have had the privilege to meet and interact with deaf and blind students at RIT and they are without a doubt some of the toughest nuts I have ever seen and a great company.

Circle of life – We are merely travelers passing through this realm and this world is what we make out of it. I always try to stand out, take on new roles and do not shy away from challenges. The fact that I’m an engineering grad student and penning this piece is enough to prove it! Being a go-getter is much more rewarding than it seems and this place has instilled the belief in me.

Humility – Ever wondered what the creator of a facial detection algorithm in our phone cameras is like in real life? Just like any of us – loves listening to 80’s music, enjoys Chinese food and owns a 2014 Honda Civic. Being humble is truly a virtue that does not take a lot of effort to master. It makes people instantly like us and this kind of also stems from the fact that everyone here is deemed to be on the same pedestal.

If you have made it this far, I am grateful and hope you could relate to some of your own experiences reading it. If not, there’s no better time to start a new journey! Visit an art museum, learn rock climbing, dive into a crazy research problem. Knock yourself out. Make some headway in the circle of life. We miss a 100% of the shots we don’t take!

 

Getting a DMV-issued ID in the United States

by Krishna Tippur Gururaj, Computer Science MS student 

A person is ID-ed while purchasing alcohol, or while entering an age-restricted setting, such as an R-rated movie at a theater or even a restaurant after a certain time, or when taking a domestic flight within the US. As an international student, my primary ID is my passport. However, I find it cumbersome and unsafe to carry it around whenever I step out of the house.

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) comes to the rescue in this matter. It issues three different types of ID, all of which can be used for the various purposes mentioned above. The first, and the simplest to obtain, is the non-driver’s ID, also known as a state ID. It costs about $8. The whole process at the DMV takes a few minutes and the issued ID gets mailed within a fortnight. The list of required documents can be found on the DMV website. The validity ranges from 4 to 10 years.

The second type of ID is a learner’s permit. This is required to obtain an eventual permanent driver’s license but can be used a form of ID on its own too. This typically costs around $70 (the actual cost depends on the age of applicant and other criteria) and includes the cost of obtaining the permanent permit as well. The required documents for this ID can be found on the DMV website, however if an applicant already holds a state ID, no extra document might even be checked. A written test is required for this ID. An applicant is asked to answer 20 questions pertaining to driving and the learner’s permit is issued if 14 or more of these questions are answered correctly. I personally read the content at https://dmv.ny.gov/driver-license/drivers-manual-practice-tests to prepare for the test.

The third type of ID is the driver’s permit. An applicant for this needs to be in possession of a valid learner’s permit and should have completed a pre-licensing course or a driver’s education course. More details about these courses can be obtained from the DMV website. The applicant would need to successfully pass a road test to get this permit. Scheduling this road test takes time as DMVs are usually dealing with a constant backlog of tests so typically the next available date is usually a couple of months away. The cost of two road tests is included while paying for the initial learner’s permit. If an applicant needs more than two tests, an extra charge is levied.

Once a person has any of these three IDs, their passport can be safely kept indoors only to be taken out for international travel. Please remember that none of these above mentioned IDs can substitute the requirement of a passport while crossing international boundaries!