Wednesday, February 23, 2011

They Got Game

Consulate staff enjoy a match of basketball at the Sports Coaching Foundation

Guest Blogger- Jeremy Jewett 

Jeremy Jewett is a first-tour Vice Consul from Wisconsin. On a good day, he stands 5’10”.  His line on the day? 6 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 turnovers, 2 fouls and 1 great experience.

If the National Basketball Association really is scouting India for the first player with the potential to make it big-time, ala China’s Yao Ming, they’d better book a ticket to Hyderabad. Fast.

That’s what I didn’t know before agreeing to match up against local kids in a friendly basketball game Friday afternoon.

I jumped onboard as soon as I heard the Public Affairs Section was recruiting American officers for a game at the Sports Coaching Foundation. After all, I’ve got a pretty solid background in basketball. Okay, I haven’t played on a school team since 5th grade and my intramural team recorded only one win in two seasons, but still, my hometown back in Wisconsin is a basketball hotbed. The Fond du Lac Cardinals regularly win state championships and my sister’s classmate made it all the way to the Final Four and a starting spot on an NBA roster. And it’s safe to call my college a powerhouse. The University of Wisconsin Badgers just beat the #1 team in the country! That pedigree has to count for something.

I knew we were in trouble, though, the moment we stepped out of the car. Tucked next to Chacha Nehru Park in a modest corner of the city, the non-profit organization’s dusty sports field is brought to life with that magical sound of children at play, universal in any land. Huddled up on one side of the sports field, a team of girls, all sporting matching blue jerseys. On another side, a team of boys, even taller and older, in matching yellow. They looked like they knew what they were doing.

But still, I was optimistic. These were only schoolchildren, after all.

As we warmed up, the crowd grew little by little. The other sportsters -- the cricket boys, the gymnastics girls and the tennis-wallah -- took a break to ring the court. And plenty of parents joined them. After calling everyone’s attention, Mr. Saibaba, the founder of Sports Coaching Foundation, was kind enough to announce our all-star line-up and asked us each to introduce ourselves. And in truth, I earned more applause with the microphone than with the gameplay that was to come.

“Namaskaramu, na peru Jeremy,” I started, to cheers from the half of the crowd that prefers Telugu. The other half clapped when I parroted “Namaste, mera naam Jeremy hai,” in Hyderabad’s other major language, Hindi/Urdu.

“Mai university me hindi urdu parta ta…kani ee rojlu na telugu na hindi urdu kante chala bagundi,” I said, blending the two very different languages together, as so often happens here on such a diverse subcontinent.

But it was the kids’ chance to show off their skills just as soon as the ball was tipped. The blue-clad girls won the tip and raced down the court. A few well-executed passes, a dribble or two, a swish. Girls 2, Consulate 0. I glanced at one of my coworkers and all he could offer was a shake of the head.

We had walked into a trap. These kids were ringers!

For 15 minutes, the girls found hole after hole in our defense, even if our height and superior bulk kept us in the game. After a short time-out, it was the boys’ turn to embarrass us. They chose to do their damage with the fast break. Lay-up after lay-up. Even the third game, a mixed group of younger kids, was more than we could handle.

But even if the scoreboard wasn’t in our favor Friday, we walked away with our heads held high and a smile on our faces. It was great to see kids of all creeds having fun on the Sports Coaching Foundation, learning real life lessons from both the coaches and the value of gameplay.

Plus, I’m hoping these Hyderabadi kids will keep me in mind for a pair of front row tickets just as soon as they make it onto an NBA roster.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mining The Mines-The American Way

I always loved being an economic specialist in the Foreign Service because it meant I got to visit factories, farms and other workplaces.  I‘ll never forget seeing how Colgate put the striped toothpaste in the tubes in Georgetown Guyana, or visiting the Bralima brewery in Kinshasa, DRC.  I’ve enjoyed visiting a variety of workplaces since I arrived in Hyderabad.  The process one observes visiting an IT company is not as visually arresting as a factory visit, but through visits to high tech companies I’ve learned a lot about this important growth sector in Hyderabad and about the diversity of products and services being produced in Madhapur and Gachibowli.
I had a chance to visit one of Singareni Collieries’ mines in Ramagundam this week.  A local company, Advanced Mining Technologies, has deployed U.S.-manufactured equipment in the mine to help Singareni recover coal in inaccessible areas that would otherwise remain in the ground.  I saw the Addcar Highwall Mining equipment extract coal by digging shafts into the side of a massive open pit mine.  The efficiency of the process was amazing—experts had pinpointed the location of the seam of coal to be exploited, and the machine extracted coal, with no waste generated.  From my point of view, this was a great micro-example of how U.S. technology can help reduce the environmental impact of Indian economic development: the more coal that can be extracted without increasing surface disruption or generating waste, the better.
The other great part of my visit was that I got a chance to meet four Americans sent out from Kentucky to help train operators by the company that produced the equipment.  They told me they had never traveled further from the U.S. than Canada before, but they were enjoying their time in Karimnagar District, Andhra Pradesh.  They told me the community had welcomed them and made them feel at home.  I feel exactly the same way here in Hyderabad.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Choosing the Right University

One thing that has become clear to me in recent days is that prospective students in India don’t know as much as perhaps they should about colleges and universities in the U.S.  So I thought I’d blog a little about where I went to school and how I decided.

I earned a BA at Kenyon College.  Kenyon is a private liberal arts college, and like most liberal arts colleges, it offers a very low student-faculty ratio (10 to 1), awards only bachelor’s degrees, and requires that students study a diverse range of courses, rather than specializing narrowly.  Kenyon enrolls about 1600 students today—it was a bit smaller in my day—and is located in a town with a population of only about 1200 year-round residents.

Why did I pick Kenyon?  I knew I was interested in having direct engagement with faculty, I liked the idea of the nurturing environment at a small school, I wanted a broad education and I wanted to go to a school with a reputation for academic excellence.  Given these criteria, I researched schools primarily using college guides.  (No internet in my day—I had to do my research in the library!)  

That helped me focus in on maybe 100 or so top liberal arts colleges, out of a total of 5000 or so colleges and universities in the U.S.  It wasn’t important to me to live in a big city or in a warm climate; if it had been, I would have been able to use those factors to narrow the list further.  I then talked to family and friends and picked a short list of schools where I applied.  (How many depends on how likely your admission is to the schools on your list.  I knew I was likely to be admitted to the schools I really wanted, so I only applied to a handful.  That’s not necessarily the best strategy—but it worked for me.) 

When admissions came in, Kenyon offered me a really great financial aid package, and I happily made the decision to enroll.  I had a great experience at Kenyon.  I’m sure I would have also had a great experience at most of the other 100 on my initial list.  But I would not have been as happy at a big university where students live anonymously off campus and graduate students do most of the teaching.  Again, those things depend on individual temperament, what suited me best would not suit everyone.  What matters is giving serious thought to the question.

I went to graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  For graduate school, I knew I would be focused in on academics, so that was my over-riding consideration.  I checked lists of universities offering top programs in my field of study, and was lucky enough to be admitted to MIT.  MIT couldn’t be more different than Kenyon—but it was right for me at that stage.  I would not have been happy there as an undergraduate.

My advice to any student is to think seriously about what matters to you at a school, and then research alternatives.  In addition to size of school, type of instruction, size of city, academic ranking and input from family and friends, I would imagine an Indian student would be interested in knowing how many international students are studying at any school.  For some students, having a number of other Indians at the school might be important—but if you are looking to study in the U.S., I think you should look for an institution that also enrolls many Americans. 

The U.S. government supports some resources that can help.  A great starting point is the Education USA website: The U.S.-India Educational Foundation provides college information and counseling services to students across India.  In Hyderabad, USIEF is affiliated with two advising centers.