Maryland Dhoom: A home away from home

*Maryland Dhoom is The University of Maryland’s competitive South Asian Fusion Dance Team.*

Dancing used to be a hobby and now it’s a passion of mine. Therefore, before travelling to America, I knew I wanted to join a dance team.  However,  I didn’t know whether to carry on doing Bollywood and Bharathanatyam (Indian classical) or experience every American college girl’s dream- getting on to the cheerleading team.

I decided to audition for a few teams before auditioning for Maryland Dhoom. Pretty much all the teams rejected me because they required at least one year commitment and I am only there for a semester. It was upsetting because I spent so much time and effort to prepare for the audition (especially the cheerleading one) and for that to be dismissed for a reason that I have no control over.

Due to the previous experiences with auditioning, the first thing I asked at Maryland Dhoom’s teaching day was “Can I join even though I am only here for a semester?”

“Of course you can!” said one enthusiastic Maryland Dhoom member.

After this moment, I felt so excited to dance! I took off my hoodie, placed my phone in my bag and started to stretch a bit.

“Before we start teaching you the dance, let’s sit in a circle and introduce ourselves” said one of the captains. I sighed. (There was about fifty people in the hall). When it was my turn: “ Hi, my name is Thul-”, the biggest reaction happened. A lot of gasps, a lot of “oh my gods” and a lot of “ she’s British!” When I tell you the Americans love the British accent, they LOVE the British accent.

Other than that, the audition process went smoothly and our team had our first social the following week. I felt like a grandmother at the social. Everyone apart from the captains were freshmen (first year students). But it felt wholesome. I felt like I was going to be part of a family.

Rehearsals were taken pretty seriously. Every week I had ten hours of dance rehearsals. It was very organised too because usually they use Fall semester to prepare for competition season ( Spring semester). Unfortunately, I would not be able to travel to different states and participate in competitions as I was only in America for the Fall semester. But I still had a few exciting events to look forward to: dance team photoshoot, audition filming day, Dhoom Venmo challenge  and an exhibition performance in Washington D.C.

A few of the photos from the dance shoot.

You’re probably thinking what ‘audition filming day’ is. We dedicate a day to film our audition tape. The audition tape needs to perfect as it determines Maryland Dhoom’s competition season. There are more than 100 bollywood/ fusion competitions in America. And the more you attend and place, the more points you get and the more likely you get to the Nationals (the final stage). This is the overall picture, obviously there are more rules.

Let me be honest, audition day was stressful. If someone made a mistake midway through, we had to start again. And after a few times, it did annoy people. Also, it was humid that day too; that did not help at all. But it was a good bonding experience. * A few hours later * we got two perfect takes!

You’re also probably thinking what is “dhoom vemo challenge”. It’s such an innovative method to raise money. So, Maryland Dhoom came up with a few dares with prices (the more daring the higher the price)  and posted it on their social media. Friends and family of Dhoom members can venmo (the American version of Paypal) money along with the dare and who they’re daring.

Here are a few:

A few of the venmo challenges

When November commenced, rehearsals started to become intense as we only had a couple of weeks left until show day. The week before show day was called ‘hell week’. (Literally hell week for me because I had two mid-terms that week too!) We had practise every evening, and we would rehearse until the captains were satisfied. Ex-captains and the captains’ friends would come in too to help out. A variety of things were involved during hell week: improving stamina by repeating routines with 30s breaks, improving techniques by getting into partners and criticise.. costumes, last min changes to the routine and formation, and a lot of drama ! The hell week was worth it though, I could tell that everyone improved dramatically!

16th November 2019. It was show day! But to me, it felt like a girls’ day trip and night out! It was so fun. We spent the morning getting ready together, drove to get lunch together, and then got to the venue. Everything was going so smoothly, and then it came to our turn to have the stage rehearsal.

A couple of the dancers slipped on stage and injured themselves, formations weren’t perfect, and it didn’t meet the captains expectations. So obviously there was some tension in the room. However, we pulled ourselves together and did last minute touch ups on both our dance routine and make up. We sat in the audience before performing, and boy, I was so excited to see the performers. I was literally on the edge of my seat. The energy levels were INSANE! The costumes and the use of props were too phenomenal. I didn’t want to stop watching but then they called up our team.  I remember being so nervous backstage, especially after watching the other performances. But when I got on stage, the vibes were surreal! Soon after our performance we hurried to get to the after-party. It was a fun night out with the girls but my legs were dead by the end.

Maryland Dhoom doing the “Dhoom face”.
A snapshot of the performance in D.C.

After the performance we did not have any rehearsals but we had a Christmas special social event. It was so wholesome: we watched Wizard of Oz (that’s Dhoom’s competition theme), did Secret Santa and had ordered take away. We undertook secret Santa with a little twist, instead of writing the person’s name on a tag we had to imitate our person and the others had to guess it. When it got to my turn I got so emotional because they gave me a goodbye present too. It was so heart-warming and honestly I will miss them so much.

That’s when I realised: joining Maryland Dhoom was one of the best things I did whilst studying abroad. I made some good friends outside of my class and it made me feel less home sick.  It gave me an opportunity to carry on doing what I love, on campus. Also, in hindsight, I saved a lot of money too, because if I didn’t join the team I would have spent my free time travelling around America, splurging on sightseeing activities. (I have a few friends complaining now that they spent too much on travelling).

I loved being part of Maryland Dhoom and I will cherish the memories I made with my Dhoomies. To those thinking about studying abroad, join a society – it’s worth it!

PS if you want to watch our performance, here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7ywDo_K9LU

Goodbye presents from my Dhoomies! ❤
Hope you enjoyed reading my blog!

College in America Vs University in England (Seven differences)

I study Chemical Engineering, and I am only taking Chemical Engineering modules at UMD. So the differences listed below are based on what I have experienced. (It may be different for other courses at UMD).

1.Everyone writes in pencil here! Over the past few weeks, I have realised how much I cross out with pen and waste so much paper.

Let me tell you a funny story. In one of my classes, I decided to take notes on paper using a pencil instead of pen. I had to erase something, but I did not have a rubber in my pencil case. So, I turned to the person next to me and asked quietly if I can borrow her rubber. She stared at me weirdly, and obviously I was confused. What did I do wrong? Oh, maybe she didn’t hear me I thought. Hence, I repeated myself “can I borrow your rubber?” and pointed at the end of her pencil. She gave it to me like she didn’t want to give it to me. For the rest of lesson, I was just baffled. My next class was in the same room; I sat next to my friend and I told her about the awkward situation. She burst out laughing! I was even more confused. She immediately went on her phone and showed me a page on urban dictionary: “ Rubber: (American English) a condom, (British English) an eraser”.

Now it all made sense! From then on, I am very careful on what words I use, yet I am still curious if there are other words like this!

2. As a chemical engineering student, you are expected to be good at unit conversions.   As a US chemical engineering student, you are expected to be good at unit conversions both in imperial and metric system. The conversions that my Year 7 teacher told me to memorise have finally become useful.

3. I feel like I am back at school! We get homework every week, and they get graded and count towards your final grade! (There is no such thing as catching up/cramming for exams during the holidays here :’) ). Also, during the semester, we have mid-terms and presentations to do… so you really have to be on top of your work. One of my friends said that a lecturer said, I quote: “if you’re not ahead you’re behind”.

4. In most UK Universities to achieve a 1st class you need to obtain an overall grade of more than or equal to 70%. Whereas to get a grade equivalent to a 1st in the USA, so an A+, you need to obtain an overall grade of 94%. I have realised when I was studying at The University of Manchester, I was not aiming for perfection, I just wanted to get a good understanding of the topic and be able to answer questions. But here, I am driven to be a perfectionist. My work ethic has changed because of the different criteria.

5. You are allowed to bring your dog to class here! (If the lecturer and all the students in the class are okay with it). In my Protein Engineering class, most of the students are dog lovers, so we’ve had at least someone bring their dog to class a few times so far this semester!

6. I assume that Universities all over the world take cheating in exams or homework very seriously. In my opinion, I feel like UMD are a little over the top with “academic dishonesty”. For every mid-term exam or quiz I have sat, as well as writing my name and module on front of the paper, I have had to write “I pledge on my honour that I have not given or received any unauthorised assistance on this examination/assignment”.

7. Being a chatterbox is fine in the US! You get credit for it. It counts towards your final grade. At the University of Manchester I am used to having 80% of my final grade being based on my exam and 20% based on my coursework. Whereas at UMD, (it varies from class to class) the grades get weighted as: 30% final exam, 20% homework, 20% midterm, 20% presentations and 10% participation.

People have asked me which education system I prefer….  during the start of the semester I said I liked the UK system as I am used to it. However, now that I am half way in, I am starting to like this system; I have immensely improved my work ethic and time management because of the consistent stress throughout the semester. Moreover, it has made me into a perfectionist which in my opinion is a benefit in the workplace (let’s get them bonuses!). Best of all, I do not need to spend this year’s Christmas break revising aka cramming for January exams (except for one distance learning module). #onemonthoffreedom

Start of something new

Thulase Sivapooranan The University of Maryland, USA

Tuesday 20th of August 18:30

Moving-in Day

I was standing in front of numerous tall, looming crimson-bricked and white-pillared buildings, both my small hands occupied: one holding onto a suitcase the size of me and the other clutching my phone with a mere 5% charge. No one was around; I did not know where to go; I was hours late to check-in at my accommodation! Did it get worse? Yes. Booming claps of thunder echoed from above and a heavy downpour of rain followed.  There were booming bursts of thunder and it suddenly started to rain heavily. I never felt so isolated; I just wanted to cry with the clouds.

Eventually, I saw a figure in the distance, so I ran towards them, quite slowly (because I had to drag this heavy suitcase with me too).

“Hi ! I’m Tee, could you help me, please? I am an exchange student! I just landed! I don’t know where to get my keys from! Do you know where I can get them from?” I panted.

“Yes, sure! Don’t worry, I got you “said Josh calmly ( a junior home student  at The University of Maryland ), and  took hold of my oversized suitcase kindly.

He helped me move in, and then we went to the closest sushi restaurant to have dinner. We probably spent an hour at least, talking about Maryland, America, Manchester, our hobbies, ourselves. In that moment, I was overjoyed- I had an enigmatic smile painted on my face. I just made my first friend abroad, and I got a gut feeling that I was going to love it here.

Wednesday 21st of August 09:00

First day of Orientation

“Welcome to the University of Maryland! We are very happy to see you here. Our first session will start shortly, for the time being feel free to interact–“

I turned my head to see who was next to me and I smiled at them and introduced myself.  It finally got to me that I was not in Manchester anymore; I realised that I was back at square one. New campus. New people. New everything. But as the day went by, I felt more welcomed and less overwhelmed. The orientation sessions were very informative; the staff were very welcoming, and all the exchange students were just as excited and nervous as I was.

Thursday 22nd of August

Most of the orientation sessions were as expected, including: how the US healthcare system works, Academic integrity and a Washington DC trip with all the exchange students. But, the safety and security session …oh boy, it gave me the heebie jeebies! UMD’s police department came in to give us the talk, and half an hour in they gave us a short “active shooting training” session. RUN. HIDE. FIGHT was the motto. It became very clear to me that I was going to be living in a high gun to people ratio country for the next four months. I need to be vigilant.

Friday 22nd of August

Last day of Orientation and I learnt a lot about the American Culture and History of Maryland. It’s good to see how far Maryland has come from the very severe racial segregation which was not too long ago, to now one of the most diverse states. (UMD is one of the most multicultural universities in the US too!)

We ended the day with a massive BBQ dinner outside the basketball courts! The atmosphere was amazing- full on High School Musical vibes. Just as I thought I would have time in the weekend to catch up with my family and friends back at home… one of my new friends popped the question “should we go to New York this weekend, seeing as we don’t have class homework to worry about yet?” And the next thing I knew, at 11pm Friday evening, the four of us were on a coach to New York!! As born and raised in London and Manchester, it is safe to say that New York is something else! I will be sharing my experience via my vlog and Instagram posts!

It’s only been a week since I have moved to the States, and I have to say that I am loving it so far! If you’re planning on coming to America, here’s two things that I’ve learnt so far:

  1. Take advantage of your British accent, the Americans love it!
  2. Plan to be spontaneous tomorrow –make the most of your time here.