Up Close with Walton College of Business

“Atithi devo bhava”, (Guest is God) It was exactly by these words with which we welcomed the Sam Walton College of Business students to our campus (FIIB, New Delhi) on the 18th of May 2013.

FIIB in collaboration with Sam Walton College organised a very interesting cross-cultural interaction opportunity for the students home and abroad. With the help of some really unique and adventurous activities designed by faculty, our friends from Walton College and us had to study the socio-eco-political-cultural scenario of India. And with this thought, we started with one of the most memorable and exciting experiences of our lives -India re-visited, like never before!

To start with, we were all split in groups of 4- 5 students and each group was given a particular topic to research on. My group had Ally, Jenna and Alex from Walton College, and Ajay and me from FIIB. The topic given to us was “Acceptance of Packaged Chicken Snacks in India”.

This was my first time that I’d be interacting with an American. And so at the outset, I have to admit, I entered this exchange program with some pre-conceived notions of the Americans and their culture.  Some of these notions were: Americans are rude; Americans are so set in their own ways, and hence extremely rigid in their outlook; Americans are so independent. Imagine living on my own when I was 18…

However, what I discovered through my interactions with my friends was an eye-opener for me. I realized that there were more similarities between us than differences.  Once I was able to go beyond the strange accent and the skin color, we were people who shared the same likes and dislikes; made similar jokes and comments regarding our political system, faculty and friends; and had similar aspirations.

First let me address how my American friends fared on my pre-conceived notions – I had a general perception in my mind about the Americans being rude and rough. But after I spent some time with them, they proved me wrong, entirely wrong. To my surprise, they are so adaptive in nature. On the day of the market research it was inevitable for anyone to complaint about the 44 degrees heat, but keeping aside the heat, they enjoyed the street children performing acrobats for money or a labour trying to balance 4 bags of cement alone.  From the day I got to know that I’m selected for this program, I had so many questions in my mind for them. I was sure that they would be bored with the bundles of questions I had for them. But to my surprise, they welcomed my questions with equal enthusiasm. But it wasn’t just a one sided affair, they too were equally enthusiastic to know more about our culture to the great Gandhi family.

Now for some ways in which our contexts are different – The very first thing I compared was their college to ours. They just have around a 4 hour classes a day for 3 days a week. The spare time goes in the co-curricular activities. I was told that their college provides them with a perfect work-life balance that allows them to pursue their hobby which makes their resume look better. They also have a leadership class every week, where they are given leadership lessons by industry people. The thing that scared me the most was when they spoke about “plagiarism”. Plagiarism is a serious offense there which can result to expulsion of a student, which when compared to India reminds me of a friend’s speech that our MBA degree should be given to “Google” solely.

They were amused to see how people drive in India, and I was amused to see them getting thrilled by something that we never noticed! There were some things that they said that I can’t get off my mind. On seeing the reckless driving, one of them said “Indians are so proactive in nature; they wear kadas and tabeez in perception that they are safe already”.

I was surprised to know that in the US, one can get a learner license at the age of just 14 and a regular license at 16 which when compared to India is 16 and 18 respectively. To this one of my team mates, Alex told me that there is a never ending fight going on between the insurance companies and the government to uplift the age bars to 18 on account of frequent accidents of teenagers.

Earlier when I thought of America, I just thought of How I met your Mother and Starbucks. Now the word “America” brings images of a mix of different cultures, the democrats, the republicans, their apparels, their lifestyles, their cuisines. Americans also became synonym with the word‘independence’ to me. Almost all the students left their homes after their high school, picked up a part time job to cover their expenses. Everyone had their private means of transport and a separate unique identity from the very beginning. This is so different when I compare this to India where mothers don’t let their child leave her anchal even when they are married!! Talking about marriage, when I asked them the legal age to get married, I was surprised to know that with prior permission of your parents, one can marry even before attaining the age of 16! I surprised them more when I told them about ‘child marriage’ that still prevails in the rural India.

The moment that startled the Walton students was their visit to the New Delhi Railway station. It was almost like a scene out of a movie to them. Millions of people running around, cow on the platform, coolie carrying luggage that probably weighed more than the arms lift by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator, left their eyes wide open. They asked me, who was the railway minister of India, and I said Mr. Pawan Bansal, and just after a moment I got reminded that he was sacked for a corruption scandal the week before, and this talk made way for the most interesting discussion on Politics. I used to think India has a copy-right on dirty politics. But I was proved wrong when they shared that recently in USA two ministers were found guilty of favouritism during the police recruitment process. And also that apart from the Medical reforms, no other reforms have been initiated that Obama talks about. The students are facing jobless growth with rising inflation. I wondered the situation is pretty much the same here. India has the resources, but not good governance and USA has the governance but not the resources. I wish I could merge the two economies.

The learning that we got from them can’t be explained in words. May be two days were too less to know about America, or maybe all it took was an hour to know about the Americans. These were some beautiful moments that the FIIB’ians would cherish all their life. Thanks to FIIB and University of Arkansas for introducing me to such beautiful people and thanks to my new friends for making me fall in love with my country all over again!