A Beautiful Mistake – A Tale Of Summer Of 2018
It was the much-awaited placements season at IIM Bangalore. Just like any other student, I was thrilled, excited and a bit nervous when it began. My expectations were not very high, I just wanted a decent offer and expected the ride to be a smooth one. I thought it would be great if I get Hyderabad or Mumbai as my Job location since Hyderabad is my hometown and Mumbai because a majority of my IIMB batchmates would be interning there. But fate had something else in store for me. It had always been the case with me that I don’t get anything in life easily and things happen in such a way that it is remembered forever. IIMB summer placements were no different. Once the placements season started, I started applying to all companies since I had no preferences as such. As a matter of fact, I also applied for Tolaram Group (If you haven’t heard about it, it is a big conglomerate operating in many countries with a major stake in Africa). What I didn’t notice was that the job location will be Nigeria/Ghana in Africa. It was not even in the slightest of my memory that I applied for it. Call it my negligence, ignorance or whatever you like but I just did the most beautiful mistake of my life. Then came the 3 grueling days of placement season. I got many shortlists, more than what I was expecting. Attended Group Discussions, running from one company to another with little time to even breathe, let alone eating, drinking or relaxing. But these tiring days are worth the experience. So, now Group Discussions are done and I got to know that I will be attending a few interviews the other day, one of them being my beautiful African mistake. That night I realized that I applied to some African company, but even then I just didn’t pay much attention to it as I had no intention to go there nor did I realize that, what if, I get to sit for the interview of that company.
Next day, as I said I always struggle to get good things in life, I got rejected in a couple of companies’ interviews. I was demoralized, the pressure was mounting upon me. I was about to break under immense pressure when I saw my batchmates getting placed and I was not able to celebrate with them. The worst part was when I realized that even they are not celebrating their success just because I was still unplaced. This is what makes you happy and sad at the same time. Then I suddenly got called for Tolaram Group interview. Initially, I was like ‘No, I Give up for the day, I don’t want to attend more interviews’. But then I thought let’s give it a shot. At least it would be a good practice for the next day. Believe me, even then I was not thinking of going to Africa for work, not even at the back of my mind. Now things started to get interesting, I gave the interview without worrying about the result and presented myself as who I am in reality, and to my surprise, they selected me. I was like ‘ Wait, What’s happening? But yes, something happened which I had never thought of. I would be going to Africa for my Summer Internship.
I accepted the result, though without being sure of what I was headed for. There was a sigh of relief among all my friends as I was finally placed and they can now see me smiling and laughing. These scenes made me forget that ‘Dude, it will be Africa where you will be spending two months’. Then heard so many horror stories of Africa that it’s not safe, how will I survive there, and racism was at the core of every discussion (though it was just to scare me and have some fun to see me worried). So, basically, before going to Africa I was literally scared as to how will I even survive there. Just like any other social media addict these days, I posted on FB that I’m flying to Africa and to scare me even more, all the comments on my post were saying just one thing “Bro, return back safely”.
With many things going through my mind, I boarded the flight. Landed in Accra (Ghana), and thought of keeping all the biases aside and look at the things as it is and then decide. I was overwhelmed to see the reception from our company officials. They took great care of us and made us feel like we don’t just share a professional relationship, but also a strong personal bond. My major worries were “What will I eat there, as I’m a pure vegetarian?”, “How safe will I be?”, “How will I work there with the language barrier?”. I initially saw all these coming as I was biased with the Africa stories I heard for 6 months after my placement. But then I realized the basic human nature. We, humans, make an image of things which we have just heard of. We form opinions, come to a conclusion and the worst part is that we spread it and reinforce those opinions amongst others. I got trapped in the same cycle. But having experienced life in Ghana for 2 months, I can say that ‘We All Stereotype’. It’s our inherent nature. We simply believe what we see or to be precise, what is shown to us. In Ghana, I found people to be very warm and loving. The culture of treating non-natives was far better than in India (I feel really bad when I say this, but that’s what I felt). Now come to the work culture and ecosystem.
I had speculations about whether I will be able to give my best in Africa with the language barrier and an entirely different work culture. But to my surprise, I found an amazing work culture, engaging project and very dedicated people to work with. Initially, I had some problems, understanding them, but after some time, language was not at all a problem, as a majority of people there were able to speak English, differing from my bias that Africans are not well educated. I was given a sales project wherein I had to start an entirely new channel to sell. ‘’Indomie noodles’’ and ‘’Pringles’’ (Yes, you read it right) through hawkers. Basically, I had to wander on the streets of Accra, talk to hawkers, consumers, distributors, and retailers which showed me a very granular picture of Africa. I was treated with great respect and love. I then realised that everything which we see on internet related to Africa is not always the true picture. I was mesmerised with the place, culture, warmth of the people, intellectual level and affinity towards harmony. The company is also great to work with. All the expats there made sure we get acclimatized to the new environment and understand the place with great detail. I was initially worried about my learning there,as I was biased that Africa is not a good place to work and not a developed one. But I had immense learning and due to a flat hierarchical structure of the organization, I got to understand every aspect of the company’s operations. One of my major learning was that I witnessed how the collaboration between two companies happen and what made this learning steep was the fact that I was the only point of contact between the companies till the final decision was made. I learned how outsourcing is done and at the first place why is it even required. This made me apply all my learnings of 1 year at IIMB. My co-interns made my stay cherishable there. Looking at the real picture, I realised that ‘ It was indeed a beautiful mistake of my life’. It would have been good if I was placed in some Indian Company, but now, I thank God that it did not happen, else I wouldn’t have experienced a beautiful place which has been stereotyped always.