Mukund Karwe is a dean of the SEBS Office of International Programs and a distinguished professor of Food Engineering.
When I arrived on Rutgers College Avenue campus back in 1981, the first thing that struck me was how sparsely populated the campus and the surrounding areas were. When I mentioned that to my international student adviser, she mentioned that NJ was one of the most densely populated states, which was a shocker to me. Looking back, that should not have been surprising for someone like me coming from Mumbai, where if someone steps on your toes in a crowded train packed with people like sardines in a can, you should not be expecting an apology; you just have to move on. The first few weeks in Rutgers were one culture shock after another, for which one cannot really prepare. Bare chested men jogging wearing only sneakers and shorts, a server in the Hardee’s take out on Busch campus saying ‘take it easy’ as if she knew me, going to New Brunswick train station without having to purchase a ticket, vending machines that dispensed soda cans for a quarter, were all new to me.
But the one stands out even today is what I would call as rough paper incident. It was only my third week at Rutgers. As a new TA to a senior Mechanical Engineering course, I was trying to explain a difficult concept to students which they were finding hard to follow, perhaps because of my Indian accent. So, I asked one of the students to give me a ‘rough paper’ so I could write/draw on it. The student was bewildered and after some back-and-forth, he thrust his yellow paper pad in front of me and said, ‘is this too smooth for you?’ Realizing my failure in communicating, I said, ‘ no, I don’t want a new blank paper.’ Then he exclaimed, ‘oh I got it, you want a scrap paper!’