Experience on Student Exchange from IIM – Respect or Inferiority?

“Student Exchange – Sure enough, delightful but…”

“All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go”, humming to the tune of John Denver, I walked towards immigration. The officer flipped through my crisp passport, pausing at the only stamped page with the Schengen visa. I said to myself, “Aye boss, that’s my sixteen country dream….the Gondola-ride, Oktoberfest, Northern Lights, deep sea diving…” My thoughts were interrupted as the immigration officer, peering at me, questioned, “Kahan jaa rahe ho?” “France.” “Kyun?” A beaming me replied, “Student Exchange Programme!”

On the orientation day as I entered the hall, I was overwhelmed by the cultural diversity of Continental Europe. While I observed the contrast between the French a la mode fashion and the traditional German lederhosen, I also appreciated the common elements that bind them together. The warm greetings, along with the appetizing delicacies prepared with the expertise of many a chef-year, made me feel that everything was impeccably carved in my welcome. My mind jolted back into reality when I saw a fellow IIM student, very unlike himself, talk to a European guy with a slight droop in the shoulders, in an overtly polite tone. This observation led to some serious self-questioning – does that droop stand for ‘respect for other cultures’ or is it just ‘Age old sunk inferiority’? The feeling resurfaced a few weeks later when two beautiful Austrian ladies tiptoed into a party and my excited friend jumped forward to greet them, “How come you are ‘late’? I thought it was an ‘Indian thing’!”

I kept pondering on these instances and many more, each buttressed the other causing uneasiness. I was perturbed not because I felt that I belong to an inferior race but because I could not validate this form of over-fascination with the west, especially in the crème de la crème of the country. My conviction was reinstated by two particular incidents. Enjoying a luncheon at an Italian restaurant in Rome, I happened to have an interesting conversation with the manager who said, “You Indians, very lucky. You have jobs and opportunities. Here, no jobs, everything so expensive. Even a public toilet costs a euro and a half.” He further added, “India, China, both progressing but Chinese – work, work, work and Indians – brain and work!” The other time was when a friend from IIM was printing his CV at the library. His good-humoured Finance professor, waiting at the printer, said at a single glance of that one-pager, “Impressive! My young friend, it’ll be pretty easy for you to hit it off on a Saturday night.”

Having so much in our armoury, do we really need to over-dignify other races? When your childhood friend calls do you ever say “Hi, I am hanging out with a Pakistani, Nigerian or Indonesian friend.”? But many of us would consciously mention “Hi, I am hanging out with a Dutch, Spanish or Austrian friend.” Undoubtedly, one of the main motives of exchange is to meet people from a variety of cultures. But befriending them is one thing and putting them on a pedestal, another! Needless to say, all of us must have experienced this at a conscious or subconscious level. The dream is to uproot such ‘Age old sunk inferiority’ induced by a mental connect between the power wielded by the British and the western life and culture. To make this dream go further the only resort is conscious effort to project Indian culture with the caution of disgrace and the prudence of a nationalist. In that tête-à-tête with outlanders, why make the reverence visible, knowing it’s unjustified? Why not derive strength from the awareness of our own cultural heritage and brand India in positive light? For this levelheadedness to sink into every Indian, the mission needs to be bolstered by the smartest 500 odd who visit the foreign land every year from the most elite B-schools in the country. We, the flag-bearers of our nation’s educated class, need to break-free from these cultural shackles and be completely uninhibited in self-tuning ourselves to believe in the superiority of our own state because ultimately we will have to ham it up to awaken the youth of the entire nation.

– Shaurya Ahuja & Kanupriya Sharda

 

Shaurya Ahuja, currently a PGDM student at IIM Calcutta, is a Gold Medalist in Electrical and Electronics Engineering and ‘All Round Achiever’ from BITS Pilani, Dubai. He holds a Pre Placement Offer from A.T. Kearney Management Consulting and went to IESEG School of Management, Lille in France for Student Exchange Programme, 2011. He has always been actively involved in dramatics from acting and directing to writing. His other interests include public speaking and travelling.

 

Kanupriya Sharda started her undergrad at BITS Pilani, India and moved to University of Melbourne after two years where she graduated in Electrical and Electronics Engineering. Currently an Institute Rank Holder amongst her PGDM batch at IIM Calcutta, she holds a Pre Placement Offer from the Investment Banking Division of Goldman Sachs. She went to KUL, Leuven in Belgium for Student Exchange Programme, 2011. She spends her time cooking, travelling and volunteering for the National Association for the Blind.

 

Acknowledgements

 

Special thanks to Jhankar Basu, IIM Calcutta, for his valuable editorial contribution and insightful suggestions.

 

We are also grateful to Neha Nair and Aparna Pillai, IIM Calcutta, for reviewing our work with encouragement.

 

You may also want to read :

Student Exchange Programmes in India – A primer – Top Business Schools in India (A detailed report)

Costs of a student exchange programme

Student Exchange Dilemma – Should I go for it?

5 Awesome parties in Europe

 

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Comments

15 comments

reuban

Good article..but i sensed a bit of haughtiness when you'l described yourselves.
A person is not defined by the company he /she works for or has an offer from.Sometimes I have noticed we Indians need to blow our own trumpet.
Humility never hurt anyone .
It was a good read nonetheless.

Rockey

Dear Reuban,

I guess you haven't been inside a B-school PPO's & Achievements are all we use to differentiate between people. :(….Initially even I was taken back but gradually my ears got used to it.

Team InsideIIM

@reuban – We encourage all our writers to tell more about themselves to the readers. You'll find it across articles on this website. Its interesting you find it 'blowing your own trumpet'. It is a practice you shall find prevalent in international publications and business dailies in India. However, your feedback has been duly noted.

Sanjay

I would say this a case of overthinking things, yes we do admire the west not because we are subservient of them, because of the advancement in technology and the efficiency of the public service there. The droop in shoulders is more the case of lack of sports and bad posture nothing more. I was part of the exchange programme and the thing that is very clear to me is that there is no presssure on you to follow the herd, students actually attend classes even after the final exam of the course , because the profeessor said that the course study would be imcomplete without the last class. I do have Indonesian friends and am proud to say I am hanging out with one, we dont differentiate nepalese, pakistani or any other people from the Indian sub continent simply because ethnically we look the same, so telling that only sounds racist !
I understand people want to look at things differently, but really stop and think how different is different.

reuban

@TeamInsideIIM:Which international publiations list their author's pre placement offers?
Knowing about a person's college and interests should be suffice,right?

I know it may sound trivial but since it was an article about how Indians act subservient to their Western peers,it also true Indians indulge in upmanship consciously and unconscionably at every given opportunity.My uncle who works in German firm mentions this a lot too!

I do not usually comment on such forums but I have noticed this behavior a lot and just wanted to point it out.

Team InsideIIM

College,B-School,Companies and Hobbies. These are standard things we encourage all writers to mention. And we never edit their profiles. It is up to the writer to frame it in a way they are comfortable.

Like we mentioned before , the feedback has been noted. Its the first time we have come across this view point and we shall consider it in our next meeting. Thanks!

Stump the guru

Interesting read! I sense a lot of verity in your writing. I am a Pakistani based abroad, and I have also come to feel that subcontinent people generally tend to behave in a rather subservient manner when it concerns interaction with westerners. This is despite the fact that most of these guys are extremely well educated which only goes on to suggest how deeply stemmed it is in our culture. The obsession is almost to the point of paranoia.

Chirri

Hi,

I think the views articulated in this article present only one side of the coin. It's wrong to believe that Indians feel subservient to the Westerners. I am a 2nd year B School student and was abroad for my summer internship and noticed that Indians who had grown up the ladder and were in senior positions were one of the most arrogant people on the office floor. While people from other countries ( Australia & US) were very humble.

When we show respect towards foreigners and talk to them politely it's not that we in anyways we feel inferior to them, it's just that we Indians consider ourselves good at heart and don't like to hurt others. We have had a long culture of treating strangers with warmth and this is what we still are good at.

The authors have been away for student exchange so I guess they didn't get to know a lot about the abroad B school students who came to India for exchange program. They were extremely gentle in talking to us and I was humbled by their behaviour.

So its too harsh a statement to say that we Indians are bounded by shackles of inferiority. Perhaps the authors had such a predisposition and these events just confirmed them. So I would urge them to get rid of any biases and be receptive to thoughts which go against their prejudices.

charankvi

@All, while all that you may say about how the organization you work doesn't define you, the hard truth is that we all fall for this trap one time or the other. How many times have you gone ahead and paid a premium for that elite brand of products? How many times have you aspired for a company, not just because the pay or work is good, but it gives you a good social image. How many times have you judged someone just because she/he is not from the top institutes?

Two big reasons authors are encouraged to mention their profiles in an opinion-driven forum is because:

1. It lends credibility to what they tell. You are surely not going to hear gyaan from someone who isn't accomplished enough
2. It also puts in perspective the background of the author so that any biases that may be prevalent can be rationalized by the reader.

Hope that clears it.

Ankit Doshi

I sincerely hope the discussion on this thread continues further only on the content in the article and not on the content in the signature. Enough has been discussed on it and the Team has noted the feedback.

I agree with Shaurya and Kanupriya in parts having had some similar experiences on my exchange term at Switzerland and also during my work visits abroad in recent times.

But I also would like to say that there is a marked shift in the behaviour of a lot of Indians now as compared to earlier. It is a slow process where we are increasingly becoming more comfortable in our own skin. With time, this fascination for everything western will also drop rapidly.

rahul

Dude my advice to you is that relax and take a chill pill three times a day. Just because you are from some IIM crap dosen't give you the right to be arrogant. I too have been abroad for internships and I must say you represent a very repressive and narrow-minded point of view. Grow up.

Shaurya Ahuja

I would firstly like to thank you all for expressing your frank opinions. While not all of them are in agreement with ours, we respect your views. This topic is inherently such that it sends passions flaring and polarized opinions are bound to generate this kind of response.

The article is based solely on our experiences during the exchange programme and we understand that others could have had completely different experiences. The sole purpose of this article is to ensure that every one of us visiting a foreign land is mindful of such things. In no way are we implying that we need to be high headed or arrogant. All we are trying to say is that we should look at them as equals and we believe that this leads to the formation of more meaningful and longstanding relationships with our friends overseas.

India is poised to be a Global Superpower in the near future. While all of us believe in the Indian growth story, we need to be ambassadors of this story.

Himanshu

Like the article; and from the comments I see that I'm not the only one who had a re-look at the authors' 'About me'. I like it that you "encourage all our writers to tell more about themselves to the readers"; and well, this is just how the authors chose to tell about themselves (like it or leave it). Impressive achievements; since I've been to one of those so-called top B-schools myself (care for which alphabet?) and I know everybody talks (brags) about a 'Pappu' on campus. Nevertheless, I probably would have done the same thing if I wrote an article while I was on campus.