At a quarter to noon, Ray and I were peeking in from the entrance of the Illini Union Ballroom. I have heard positive reviews about the Ballroom's lunch buffet, but never had a chance to affirm it myself. Soon we were joined by Ted, Eishita, and our host of the event—Professor Dilip Chhajed.
It was our first time dining at the Union Ballroom for each of us students in our group of five. Carnelian linen napkins, servers in neat uniforms, beautiful china collection—who knew a swift step out of the typical college atmosphere was so readily available right here at the heart of campus! Professor Chhajed directed our attention to the counters where a soup selection, hot entrees, fresh salad bar and desserts awaited.
New England clam chowder
“How are classes going?” Professor Chhajed started the chat on course conditions as my apple cinnamon tea arrived. We each spoke about the classes and compared the different teaching styles of our instructors. Professor Dilip introduced the concept of “Project Discovery”: learning by discovery. Coming from different undergraduate backgrounds, the four of us—Ray,Ted, Eishita, and I—were accustomed to different academic trainings and ways of approaching problems. The discussion opened up a good opportunity for us to share insights on class-prep and studying methods that worked for us individually.
Green bean casserole, Prince Edward vegetable blend, and fried shrimp
As lunch progressed, our conversation turned to activities that have kept us busy during the past couple of weeks. Consensually, job-hunting was one of them. We touched upon the different career opportunities out there for MSTM graduates, as well as the various job positions MSTM students have been interviewing for. At one point our topic shifted to technology, and Eishita mentioned her coding experience back in Standard Nine.
“She means 9th grade,” Professor Chhajed explained. I smiled. This was one of those cultural connection moments again. Ray, from Indonesia, spoke of a time when his friend on campus couldn’t understand what he meant by being in “a long queue”. Professor Chhajed shared a story about his friend whose car had broke down by the road in the middle of the night. The friend walked to the nearest house and knocked on its door asking for a quarter. The owner of the house was puzzled, but took out a quarter from his wallet for the stranger on his doorstep.
Ray and Eishita laughed. “Why did he need a quarter?” I asked, scooping up another delicious mouthful of casserole.“No, not the coin,” Professor Chhajed chuckled. “He was asking for a place to stay”. Ohhhhh
This reminded me of a time when a group of friends and I took my friend, Walter, to the corn maze. Walter is from Singapore. Our maze exploration was scheduled for the late evening. “Lets bring torches!” Walter suggested enthusiastically. My mind pictured a night sky turned red by cornfields caught in flames.
“I don’t know if I’m feeling that adventurous”.
Walter explained that we needed lights to guide our path in the dark. “Can’t we just use flashlights?” I asked. It turns out “torch” was short for “torchlight”, meaning “flashlight”.
A month earlier, a baffled Walter was at McDonald’s when the cashier lady (just as bewildered, most likely) informed him that the fast food chain did not provide “tomato sauce”. “How can McDonalds in the US not have tomato sauce?!” Fortunately, Walter’s friends realized what he meant by tomato sauce, was in fact, ketchup. “Tomato sauce is for pasta. Ketchup is for fries”. “I speak English!” Walter protested. Walter does speak English, er, English English.
Before we knew it, more than an hour had gone by and our lunch party had come to an end. The servers took our dessert plates as I wiped the chocolate traces off my chin.
Being around a diverse group of students makes me realize what we see as “standard” doesn’t always hold true for others. The ability to communicate with people of varying professional backgrounds and expectations is so vital. I really appreciate the opportunities to be exposed to such experiences on our campus.