Wanderlust Diaries – Prateek Tak’s Student Exchange Program Experience
I am not much of a raconteur because I believe in living in the moment and the vicarious thrill one might experience because of the story telling would be a mere hollow microcosm of something inexplicable. (Phew!! for those of you who thought I was writing Mandarin, don’t worry that’s all that remains from my CAT preparation, it’s going to be English from now on). I wish I could just close my eyes and take you into my thoughts (Does this remind you of Johnny Quest? Never mind!!). But since we don’t have that option let us stick to the usual method. When I think about where to begin I am bombarded by thoughts…#New Year @Amsterdam #Lost Luggage #Backpacking #Welcome Dinner #The Arctic Circle # Santa #Bomb scare #Hot Girls # Hostel Stays # Train Journeys # Jewish Concentration Camps # Pub Crawls……..the list goes on.
As a school kid I was always very fascinated by people who described about their backpacking trips in Europe and across the world. This thought always lingered in my mind and as Paulo Coelho says ‘When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it’, therefore I had my chance. I took it with both hands and before I could realize I was in Amsterdam, on the New Year’s eve. I so want to give you the details of that night, but let’s keep that for some other day. After Amsterdam, I went on to cover Italy before heading to the country where my college was, the land of thousand lakes – Finland. So, I had a flight from Paris to Oslo and a connecting flight to Helsinki. I stepped out of the plane in Helsinki and it was freezing (-8 degree C). I went inside and waited patiently for my luggage and within 20 minutes I realized there was a problem. I went to the airline staff who informed me, they had no clue where my luggage was. “Ab kya?” I asked myself silently. They took down my address and my mail Id and informed that my luggage would be delivered to me in a couple of days. There was a tutor to pick me up, by God’s grace and we reached my apartment. She dropped me and left. I entered my flat and was greeted by my French roommates and within minutes it was clear that my room key was not the one given to me. I looked up and said, “God!! There would be better ways to make me pay for my sins”.
Somehow, we all arranged for an alternate key and I could finally get to my room. The next morning I woke up and it was snowing, like I had never seen before and it was such an amazing feeling. Three days later I went to my first lecture which was followed by the director’s address. I was very fascinated by the diversity in the exchange group, there were French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Polish, Dutch, Americans, Canadians, Swedish, German, English, Irish and of course a lot of Finnish students.
The one thing I really liked about the education system was the practical nature of the courses. All our classes were very interactive and fun filled. We were made to do a lot of activities and discussions. Even the assignments were very practical in nature, such as market surveys and event management. In fact, the highlight of my stay in the university was being a core organizer of a business event called “When Business is Good (WBIG)” which saw a participation of International speakers and entrepreneurs.
The welcome dinner by the exchange committee was an experience I cherish till now. We were made to participate in amazing activities such as speed dating (Networking), guess my name and later in the night- Truth and Dare (Details can’t be disclosed here). The exchange committee organized a lot of trips and parties but the one which stands out is the trip to Lapland (Arctic Circle). Lapland is a place located extreme north of Finland and falls in the Arctic Circle. It took us 15 hours by bus to reach there. On the way, we stopped at the “Santa Claus Village”. There is an actual Santa Village with an official Santa Claus (Yes!! there is an official Santa and you have to believe me on that). After an hour’s break we reached Lapland and there was almost knee high snow that we had to cross to reach our cottages. It was a three night stay. The cottage was amazing but we had to cook our own food. We had to walk half a kilometer to get to the nearest LIDL store to get groceries. On our first night there was a hardcore party that was going on and in the middle of the night a guy who was smoking outside came running in, “It’s there, it’s right there, the Northern Lights”. I ran outside immediately to witness what I can never forget. The sky was green and shining. I couldn’t believe I was witnessing something only a handful of people witness in their lifetime. I was so excited I didn’t even realize that at a temperature less than -10 degrees I was standing in the snow with slippers and a mere t-shirt. I would have had a frost bite if I hadn’t heard someone say, “Dude, you are going to freeze to death”. I rushed inside immediately.
I backpacked through 16 countries and around 40 cities. I stayed at amazing hostels and talked to fellow backpackers. I saw the migrant crisis that had hit Europe. People who were exploring dust bins for food and seeking shelter on the train stations. I undertook train journeys for continuous 48 hours at times. I had my flight delayed just before takeoff, because of the bomb blast in Brussels. I had to go through extra round of checking because I was an Asian. I went to the craziest pub crawls in Prague and I also took the loneliest walks on the forlorn beaches of Alicante (Spain). In retrospect, it’s not the academic learning from a foreign university but the whole gamut of activities involved that make an exchange program such a memorable experience in the MBA curriculum.
Prateek Singh Tak
Class of 15-17, IIFT
(Went to Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland as a part of the student exchange programme.
Currently a summer intern at Google India )