I thought you might want to know a bit about what it was like to apply to American business schools from India. There were definitely some moments that I feel made this more of an interesting experience than if I went through the process in the US. Am I glad I applied from here? No, not really. Do I think it gave me an advantage? No, not really.
The first step in most people’s business school journey is the dreaded GMAT. This exam is something of a meta-exam in that it first examines your ability to comprehend its (TOTALLY CONFUSING MINDMELD OF A) format, and then examines your actual knowledge. I was too terrified/uninformed to take a course, so I just studied the one book I could find at my local bookstore. The test-prep books had one shelf, compared to the “Spirituality/Self” section that had several rows. In hindsight I probably should have picked up a few things there as well – maybe some more “spirituality/self” might have served me just as well.
In any event, I studied as hard as someone with mounting disdain for any task and a general aversion to numbers really can. The book kept saying things like “As you’ll remember from high school math…” and I was like, “Haha what?” Exponents – long time no see.
I scheduled my test. I had dinner with a friend the night before. I did not have a glass of wine, which he kept suggesting would help me relax. I spent a good part of the night wide awake, kicking myself for not having the wine.
Getting to the exam center was a particular source of anxiety. Mumbai’s traffic is literally the worst in the world. Delhi was technically ranked the worst, but anyone will tell you that Mumbai is infinitely worse. This means it could take anywhere from 12 minutes to 2.5 hours to travel to the testing center, in Andheri East. Even though I had scoped out the location in advance, I still got there over an hour early.
The place was actually quite nice, though it goes almost without saying that everyone stared at me like I was an alien and there was definitely some BO coming from several of my fellow test takers. I was fortunate not to be seated next to them during the actual exam. In my head, I congratulated on having already beaten those kids, since there’s no way they would get through the interview stage, at least at an American school. At a certain point we were asked to lock up all our possessions and any jewelry “except rakhi threads” (devotional bracelets given between bothers and sisters). I tried to pass my spare hair elastic off as a rakhi thread and was successful. So far so good!
Once I began the test, I started reading the directions in my head in an Indian aunty accent, to envision what my testmates were going through. “Beti, you are hawing thirdy-sewen maths questions…” This became kind of addictive. Don’t ever do this, with probably any foreign accent, during an exam.
I’ll admit it, the test was hard for me. I would say, “Oh, keeping track of the complicated timing and not playing a bunch of mind games with myself really made me sweat,” but sweat is no longer something I can joke about. The testing center was extremely temperate and it was one of only a handful of moments I’ve had in India during which I was not sweating.
Overall the test went well, I guess. I left, had my celebratory granola bar in the rickshaw home, and felt pretty good.
But not great.
After a few days, I started second guessing myself. Falling prey to online forums and probably some self-importance, I decided to retake the test. This was apparently where I had would have an experience more true to my other Indian experiences.
I had taken a different approach to studying this time, and was eager to see if I could bump my score up further. During the first section of my retake, I felt totally fine. I kept the Indian-accent instructions reading to a minimum and was proceeding nicely with the rest of the test.
Then, the inevitable happened. I don’t know if it was stress or maybe just anything I have eaten in the past two years, but in the beginning of the math section, I felt an prolonged stomach gurgle. At this point in my world travels, I’m pretty adept at self-diagnosis. I can very much differentiate which stomach gurgles are just a gurgle, which gurgles will most likely require antibiotics, and which gurgles just require a good curl-up in the fetal position with some Pepto. I started to sweat. This would take a minute. Or ten.
Probably about eight minutes later, I emerged from the test center bathroom. Nicely done, India, nicely done. You won’t let me out without a fight, will you?
As a friend visiting the city just said, “When you visit India you realize that that guy just made up Shantaram (book about hippie in Mumbai) because otherwise the whole book would have been about his diarrhea.” Truer words were never spoken. Poop is a big part of our lives here. When I write a book about my time in India, I will either call it “Taking the shits with the giggles,” or “Hold up sorry still on the toilet brb.” “Sorry [prestigious business school], that one time I tried to take the GMAT I had to leave the room for an extended period of time,” is now also in the running.
Needless to say I did 90 points worse.
MMNFD: I got into business school anyway.
Oh, and India now has this amazing commercial for vaginal-area whitening cream called “Clean and Dry” (dry?) that involves cups of coffee, white pants, and car keys inside a lady’s shorts. The best/angriest article I’ve read about this controversial ad was Mumbai Boss’ take.