Tuesday, July 29, 2008

An appetizer

Everyone got a little taste of what’s coming last night.

A group dinner arranged for students, faculty and staff at one of Bloomington’s Indian restaurants, Shanti, gave us all an opportunity to get to know each other better.

Over samosas, deep-fried patties stuffed with potatoes, peas and spices (pictured here), Butter Chicken, Lamb Korma, a vegetarian dish and a flat bread called Naan, all the students were introduced to chaperones.

M.A. Venkataramanan, who I’ll refer to from this point further as Professor Venkat, offered welcoming remarks about his hometown, Chennai (formerly Madras) and some sometimes serious, often humorous, advice about what not to eat, personal safety and “representing Kelley,” particularly when they met with business and government officials.

India, he said, is a place where people don’t like to say no, but the extent of their kindness obviously is affected by the manner in which it is received. Previous students have heeded his words well, since they’ve had opportunities to meet with Indian cabinet officials and national business leaders and see places most Indians have never seen in person.

It will be interesting to see what arrangements our friends have made for us this time.

I got to know the three of the four students who are assigned to me – Courtney, Dana (who you see enjoying the samosas) and Brian. The fourth person, Aashish, is back home in India and waiting for us.

Because I respect their privacy, I won’t reveal too much about them and about our conversations. I’ll leave that to them and their Facebook pages.

However, I will say that I’m impressed by the fact that all of them have traveled extensively around the world. After recounting all of the places she’d been, including in Africa on safari, Courtney added a couple of minutes later that she’d also been to China.

Aashish likely will be popular on this trip, particularly because of his vast familiarity with his country’s customs and culture, particularly those aimed at 18-25 year-olds. He’s from Delhi and his father still has family in Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located.

Last year, it was fun traveling with his friend and fellow cricket player Royan, who I was “responsible” for as a chaperone. I fondly recall last year how Royan, a vegetarian, was looking forward to returning home to India, a place where he’d find more for his palate. We traveled to India last November and after three months of maneuvering the American fast food scene, he was ready for home cooking.

In an e-mail exchange, Aashish says he feels the same way, especially since he’s already back home. "I hope to see all of you soon here," he wrote as a comment to this blog. "I am sure you will like my country, a country with a slight difference."

Perhaps he can join Royan and our other Group Five friends this fall when we have our planned reunion at the Bombay House, Bloomington’s other Indian restaurant. Royan can fill us in about his summer internship with a major investment firm with offices in Mumbai.

For Courtney, Dana and Brian and the others, everything will be new. It will be a week somewhat outside their comfort zone, without certain foods, a lot of bottled water and experiences they’ll never forget.

And perhaps some bargains at Delhi’s Dilli Haat craft market and Chennai’s Spencer Plaza mall. Everyone, no matter their national origin, likes a good deal.

Note: If you’d like to learn more about Venkat, you can read a bio about him at http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/2205.html

Monday, July 28, 2008

Why travel to India?

Originally, it was an item in an IU syllabus: “BUS X293 Honors Seminar in Business (3 cr.)”

“This course will introduce students to the general concept of emerging markets throughout the world and will focus on that of India,” reads the course description. “Students will study the economy, government, and policies of India as well as its culture and history. Students will be required to travel with the group to India August 1-10.”

This Friday, the 26 students enrolled in the course will discover how what they’ve learned in class compares with the reality.

In times past, international studies simply used to involve taking classes from international scholars on IU’s faculty. The many area studies and related language programs have brought the world to the Bloomington campus. Over the last decade, many U.S. business schools, including Kelley, have started to provide students with increased global access.

Today, more than a third of the 4,000 undergraduate students in the Kelley School will have traveled abroad by the time they complete their studies, including an increasing number to emerging economic markets such as India.

"The idea is to expose students to rapidly growing markets that are really shaping the future of global business,” Kelley Dean Dan Smith told me awhile back. “We want students to not just read about emerging market countries. We want them to go and experience them."

More companies recruiting at Kelley are saying the same thing. Employers have told faculty members that they want people with global experience who can work in operations abroad. Others simply want people who have a better understanding of the world around them.

India is expected to be one of the world's fastest growing economies in the next three decades. Its middle class is expanding rapidly and it is considered a strong “consumer market.” It also is the world's largest democracy.

Thirty-one percent of India's population is below the age of 15 and 64 percent of its population by 2020 will be in the age group of 15 to 59.

“It has been a great cultural and business experience,” says Vijay Khatri, assistant professor of information systems at Kelley. “It is interesting for students to see how the context of the business affects business performance. It also helps students appreciate what they often take for granted. Understanding another culture also -- I hope -- broadens the perspective of the students.”

M.A. Venkataramanan, chair of Kelley's undergraduate program, adds, "Students have communicated with me about the profound impact they have had from the trip. Several of them are moved by the poverty and elated by the optimism as well as kindness poor people have exhibited during the trip. They have organized fund raisers for India and developed a deeper understanding the meaning of taking care their community here. Several students have gone on international internships and are looking for entrepreneurial opportunities across the globe."

A former business dean I was fortunate to meet, the late IU president and chancellor, Herman B Wells, once said, "The campus of Indiana University is not just in Bloomington, or even the state of Indiana; it encompasses the four corners of the globe."

Truer words than ever.

Note about photo: M.A. Venkataramanan poses for a photo with students at Dakshin Chitra.

Friday, July 25, 2008

In just one week ...

No price tags on merchandise in the bazaar. A tasty Punjabi leavened bread called naan.

Henna tattoos and colorful saris. Bollywood musicals. Elephants.

A country school for children who have been child laborers. The call center from where people offer credit cards. A village which receives micro-financing so it can produce its own clothing for sale. One of the world’s largest car manufacturing facilities.

A rising star in India’s parliament. One of the world’s most successful consulting and information technologies companies. Traffic like nowhere else in the world.

Beginning on Friday (Aug. 1), I will be joining more than 30 honors students and faculty in Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business to this land of many questions and contrasts and an emerging economic powerhouse. We will return 10 days later.

We will leave Bloomington on a bus to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport at 6 a.m. (3:30 p.m. in the afternoon in our ultimate destination, Delhi. At Chicago, we’ll get on a flight to New York, where we will depart on an international flight to Delhi that will probably stop in Brussels for fuel. By the time we arrive, it should be about 11:30 p.m. in Delhi and 2 p.m. Indiana time the following day (possible flight delays not withstanding).

Yes, it is that far away.

For most of the chaperones on this trip, this will be our third trip to India with Kelley students, which their parents should find most reassuring. Undergraduate Program Chair M.A. Venkataraman, better known as “Professor Venkat,” was born and educated in Chennai. Professor Vijay Khatri also is returning to his homeland. The new director of the program, Kathleen Robbins, has traveled extensively worldwide. Professor Jamie Prenkert and Rosanna Bateman -- who handles all the logistics for the school’s international experiences -- also have gone to India three years in a row.

This trip will reinforce close relationships that have been forged by these and other Kelley faculty and staff to provide a personal and engaging experience for students.

For others, including me, this will be more of an introduction. But many of the Kelley students I met last year on my previous India trip continue to stay in touch with me through Facebook and occasional meetings on campus. I look forward to forging more of these friendships and regaining an appreciation for college life, 20 years after getting my IU degree.

It has been amazing to follow their progress. They include a university trustee, the founder of a microfinance organization, a student government leader, several Kelley and Wells scholars and many other outstanding young people with interests beyond financial reports and stock projections.

This blog will serve as a travelogue for our incredible Indian adventure. It not only will contain my thoughts, but also those shared with me. I plan to write daily and hope I’ll also be able to include photos.

Salaam alaikrum, “peace be unto you.”