For me, India was absolutely amazing. It was quite a shock when we first got there, just the sheer amount of people that were there could stun you. The culture was unforgettable. In India, you do not have personal space. It could be because of one of two things. First, there is no space to have. The streets are crowded and the “sidewalk” is broken if there is even one present. The other reason is that the culture does not believe in personal space. It was not a bad thing, nor a good thing, just another aspect that took some getting used to when traveling throughout the country.  Another thing that was extremely different for me was the way that the Indians conduct business. There were numerous times when we traveled between Mysore, Bangalore, Agra, and New Delhi that people would come up to you as you were getting on the bus and hound you to buy something from them. In all honesty, there were quite a few times that made me stop and think. What they were offering would go for so much more over here yet they are offering it for 200 rupees which is relatively similar to two to three dollars in America. I did know that if for one second I hesitated and even glanced at what they were selling, and they noticed, you were not going to get rid of them. They would always start out very high, and would bargain down to about 90% of what they originally offered, and you wouldn’t have to say a thing! They would just do it! Another time where I was able to see how differently the business sector is run over in India is when we were in New Delhi and were able to walk to streets to get to this, what they call, “market”.  This market was amazing! Of course, it was incredibly crowded, but there were, what seemed like, thousands of shops! You would think you were walking down this main street because of the copious amounts of stores and people that were visible, but then you would turn a corner or turn and walk down another street, and it seemed like yet another main street! There was the same amount of people and the same amount stores and shops! We did learn though that the particular place we were in was not for the typical person to buy. They were for people that were going to by a mass quantity of that item. So they would sell their products in bundles of hundreds. Obviously, that was not what the study abroad trip was looking for.  Later though we were able to go to a different market where we were allowed to bargain! Bargaining is a huge thing here. I believe I bargained every chance I got. In the hotel, a soda would cost around 100 rupees. On the streets however, it would cost around 30 – 35 rupees. So, I would go to buy a soda and they would tell me that it was 35 rupees, and I would say I only have 25 rupees, and they would say okay. It didn’t matter what they said, they were always willing to drop the price. On occasion, the shop keepers would say that I was already getting something at a discount and that was the lowest they could go…until you walked out of the store. Then, all of a sudden, you get to name your price. The business in India are just absolutely amazing as well as the culture. All of it took a couple of days to get used to, and some things, I never got used to. All in all, it was a fantastic trip!

Categories: 2015 Trip

Well we are back in the United States and everyone from the trip is still trying to process everything, myself included. Today I will be talking about what to me were the largest surprises on the trip and thoughts on universality. A person is surprised when the actual reality of something is different than the mental projection they had of that thing. The expectations I had that led to my surprises we; business would be conducted differently than in America, the food would be too spicy and of poor quality and that Christianity in India would be different than what I encounter within the United States.

First, my expectations regarding business. Going into the trip I expected for business to be run in a different way, after that is why we were going to see how business is conducted halfway around the world. Business was conducted differently on the front ends of it, primarily the sales of good and taxation. However, the strategies that we study within school and the concerns that that Fortune 500 companies have are the same thoughts, strategies and concerns that Indian enterprises have in India. We would be walking along in a city where you could not quite be sure what was going on, but as soon as we walk into a business we could analyze and understand it. It was great to see the universality of business.

Second, my expectations regarding food. Going in I was warned from family members and friends who had never been to India time and time again about the temperature, level of spice and  quality level of food. Out of everything going in, this was actually my largest concern, but I was pleasantly surprised. After quickly learning what I liked and did not like I really enjoyed the food.  Figuring out the food I enjoyed and did not enjoy was slightly annoying, but the food that I did like, was quite enjoyable. What I got from this was that if everyone is saying something it is not necessarily true, especially if those talking have never done it firsthand.

Third, my expectations regarding Christianity. Going into the trip we were briefed on many world religions on their popularity within India. We examined the Christian faith, but no more than others so for some reason coming into India I expected Christianity or the sermons to be in some ways different. We were lucky to get the opportunity to attend a Catholic Mass in an Indian church. There I was amazed by the homily because here around the world people were discussing Jesus in the same way that I would with friends or think about Jesus after reading the Bible. To see the universality of Christianity was something that made me stop and realize the ubiquity of God.  That is another reason travel is good it lets you see something that you might do every day, but from a completely different perspective.

Categories: 2015 Trip

It has been one full week since I landed on Texas soil after my long (19 hours in the air!) journey home from India. After two weeks in India, I have never appreciated the comforts of home more than I do now. This led me to think, why is home such a comfortable place? If billions of people feel at home in India, why did I not feel the same?

From a business perspective, the answer lies in the term “glocal.” This word kept popping into my head throughout the trip. In an effort to get a taste of home, our study abroad group would occasionally seek out restaurants like KFC, McDonalds, or Dominoes for some American food. The result was never quite what we expected. We nicknamed the the various chains “Indian KFC” or “Indian McDonalds” because the product offerings were distinctly Indian. By being glocal and offering products aligned with the local culture, global companies can ensure success in different places around the world.

India is an incredibly homogenous and distinctly different culture, which prompts businesses to offer products that are better suited to the tastes and preferences of the Indian people. While KFC left my mouth feeling like it was on fire, an American KFC’s food would probably seem bland to an Indian and the store would go out of business.

On the other hand, some things are the same no matter where you go. Café Coffee Day offered coffee in all of the globally standard varieties such as lattes and cappuccinos. Beyond the realm of these standard beverages, however, the coffee shop offered very Indian drinks and treats. In the Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris, our group flocked to the first Starbucks we saw and I noticed different fruits, pastries, and sandwiches than what is typically available at the Starbucks shops in the states.

The corporate visits we went on delivered a similar message. The automobile company that spoke to the group in Delhi discussed how their company had designed automobiles specifically for Indians. The most popular vehicles that they sold in India were small and agile in order to navigate the incredibly crowded and disorganized traffic of India’s city streets. The cookie factory that our group toured offered chocolate chip cookies, of course, but also manufactured a large number of savory or spicy cookies more suited to the Indian palate.

No matter where you go in the world, no place is quite like home. While brand name companies provided a taste of the familiar while abroad, they were still distinctly different. After each failed attempts at finding American food from glocal companies, I longed for the American and especially Texan foods and products that define my home culture and identity. Truly, there is no place like home.

Categories: 2015 Trip

One week later and I still don’t feel that I have effectively processed what we saw and experienced half way across the world in India. I learned a lot about gratitude, much about the Indian culture, and a thing or two about myself.

What I learned about gratitude: I am so grateful to have grown up in the household and community I did. I feel fortunate for my education, faith, and overall upbringing for I feel that many of my values, preferences, and strengths are a direct result of these things. However, I spent a lot of time thinking and in conversation with the idea of, “what would be the same about me if I were to have grown up in India?” I like to believe that a few things that are core to myself, despite my family or faith, such as a deep care for others would still exist. Sure many of my actions and beliefs may be different, but would my personality? What about my personality? Strengths? This question carried with me throughout much of the trip and helped diversify my perspective as I examined all those I came encounter with.

What did I learn about the Indian culture and nation? The first words to come to mind when I think of India are: colorful and culturally-rich. Walking the streets of India we were welcomed by colors, people, busyness, and conversations. Unlike the United States and Europe (the other continent in which I have spent time), locals were truly Indians as opposed to being a melting pot and blend of nationalities. We saw little influences of other nationalities and cultures, which is different than if one were to travel to New York City and find cuisine and residents from all over the world. I think this complete Indian presence is perhaps why I perceived the culture to be so strong.

However, I do know from multiple conversations with locals that there are major differences within the country – just as there are cultural differences between the north and south of the America. Unfortunately, I found myself having a hard time distinguishing and picking up on the regional differences while within India. Perhaps this was because it all seemed foreign to me that I had a difficult time benchmarking the “Indian norm”? This could also be because I was struggling to validate my observations as truth for the region/city/nation or as a simple one-off observation. My inability to identify national and regional differences led me to perceive behaviors and scenes as “that is so Indian.” As I continue to process my experience on this trip, I hope I am able to decipher through pictures and personal journal entries some of these differences. I want to have a good understanding of the Indian nation and I believe that having an understanding of the regional differences is important to accurately do so.

I will never forget some of the major things we experienced while abroad: the chaotic traffic patterns, the excess of stray dogs, monkeys, and cows, the inexpensive cost of living, the friendliness of the citizens, and the strong religious influence. I learned to love the simplicity of life and the simplicity of Indian business. India is a developing nation and many of the sites of poverty and basic business were foreign to us, but consistent with those of a developing nation. This trip was incredibly eye opening and a great first exposure to India. I am so grateful for these two weeks!

Categories: 2015 Trip

Over the span of this trip, we have been able to personally see some of the history that has shaped India. Shah Jahan’s Taj Mahal offered insight into his character and goals. The solid marble structure towers over the small town of Agra as an eerily beautiful reminder of a passionate emperor. It has also been exciting to observe new transformations in the country that will contribute to the future of India. In 2005, the largest comprehensive Hindu temple in India was opened to the public, indicating the sustained dominance of Hinduism in India. We stood in line with other locals for almost an hour to walk through the temple.

The economy of India is among the largest in the world. However, corruption is a major concern. The nation is industrializing at a fast pace, but the people are having a hard time keeping up. The poverty is glaring, with trash littered on the narrow, crowded streets. We can feel the presence of the Indian police force, even as American tourists. The quick pat down is a normal part of our day. Despite the obstacles that surely face a nation pulling itself into modern times, some industries have shot forward in the race.

Corporate visits have afforded a peak into what it is like to do business in India. Many companies operate at a multinational level, such as Infosys and IBM. Each facility caters to the location. Our tour of Infosys was quite impressive. The large, well kept grounds were a breath of fresh air. The buildings were pristine and nothing like the city just outside the gates. This is a common theme in India: a five star hotel will be situated across the avenue from a crowded marketplace. The TVS Motor Company plant in Mysore exposed state-of-the-art technology. Most establishments recognize a set of ethics for doing business that is encouraging. Assembly line workers are given agreeable wages and hours.

In Delhi, executives from Maruti Suzuki came to our hotel to speak to the group about India and how they do business. According to their presentation, vehicles are a status symbol in India. The people tend to spend money on items that increase their social status. It was interesting to hear about what the people value and how they differ from consumers in America. Competition is increasing in the automotive industry, making it hard for smaller companies to produce quality products that can compete with the larger, established brands. Mom and pop stores are being replaced and products are changing from functional to emotional – true to Western example.

As our adventure in India comes to a close, I am truly eager to continue my research into the Indian economy and infrastructure. I have seen another culture – a vibrant culture – full of Naan and traffic and colors.

Categories: 2015 Trip

New Delhi//January 6

India is new. Before coming to India, I had not encountered such a unique and vibrant culture. The nation is rich with tradition, rituals, religions, foods and people. Money – not so much. India is similar to Central America in climate and standard of living, but the culture is very different. In order to categorize my experience thus far for the purpose of this post, I have chosen a few experiences that I have found enjoyable. These include routine tea and coffee, friendly people, the architecture, and the climate.

Tea and coffee are offered at every meal, and are available at any other time of the day. The coffee is sweetened with milk and sugar. Tea in India is not like the tea in America. Iced tea is rare, and hot tea is served with milk. Cookies and different sweet treats are commonly paired with the tea and coffee. Yum!

The people in India remind me of the people in Texas. They are generally well mannered (unless they are rushing to board an airplane) and are often outgoing. The Shangri La Hotel staff was welcoming, insisting on pouring drinks, carrying luggage, and rushing away dirty dishes. Whether it is directions to a restaurant or just a friendly “good morning”, smiles brighten the experience.

Traveling around New Delhi to visit historic sights and landmarks, the architecture is breathtaking. In the US, most buildings are designed to accommodate many people in a cost efficient manner. In India, palaces take decades to build for the sole purpose of housing one or two important people. No expense is spared, and tourists love it! Pictures of the Taj Mahal will never do it justice.

The weather in India has been excellent. At this time of year, the nights are cool and the days are warm. A light jacket will suffice for a night on the town. The palm trees exude a feeling of tropical beaches.

I look forward to continuing our journey towards the Southern parts of India!

Categories: 2015 Trip

I’ve been very blessed to do quite a bit of traveling in my 20 years of life, mostly to some developing countries, causing me to believe I had seen it all. But, boy, was I wrong.

India has some of the most beautiful places and some of the most unkempt places I have ever seen. First, being able to see the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, first hand was mind blowing. I think that was the first time I realized I was seriously on the other side of the world. The place is spectacular, everything from its architecture to the history behind the building and to how well maintained it is. But what really amazed me was how right outside the walls of this mausoleum there was disorder and trash in the streets. I wish I could say that this was only in the city of Agra, but as we travelled from New Delhi to Bangalore to Mysore this image remained. There would be a fairly well kept building next to an unfinished building, slums, or to a lot full of trash. My mind has still yet to comprehend how such contradicting conditions exist in such a vibrant and emerging culture.

Now, settled back in the states, I can now truly see the differences and similarities between the two countries. India, much like the United States, was very hospitable. Most of everywhere we went we were greeted with warm smiles and friendly gestures. While on company visits, it was interesting to see how things we typically see as obstacles, such as poor infrastructure and roadways, they are able to create successful businesses out of, like TVS Motors and Suzuki Maruti. And like the United States’ reduced lunch program, India has a non-profit organization that provides lunch to public school children. Although, there was obvious corruption and lack of order, India’s citizens seem to be content.

Our two weeks in India were incredible. The memories and friendships made will always be with me. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better group of students to experience the intense traffic, the crazy tuk tuk rides, the interesting foods, the barefoot walks aroundtemples, the long bus rides or the extensive street bargaining with. Thank you for making the start of 2015 one for the books!

 

Categories: 2015 Trip

In my first week back in the States, I’ve had some time to reflect on the parts of India that I found to be the most novel. One issue that I found to be particularly enlightening was the infrastructure problems found in India.

Before the trip, I heard a lot about how poor infrastructure is a hindrance to business being done in India (and other developing countries). While I kept hearing this, however, I don’t think I had a very good frame of reference for what that actually looked like. One of the things I appreciated most about our trip to India was getting to see this challenge up close, even if it was not necessarily a joy to experience (bumpy, trafficky roads = one carsick Emma). As we drove around the cities of Delhi, Bangalore, Agra and Mysore, we experienced firsthand the poor roads and intense traffic that makes traveling through these cities unpredictable and nightmarish. Even as we drove between cities on large toll roads, we found that what we expected to be long stretches of undisturbed highway were riddled with speed bumps and toll booths every short distance. It’s easy to see why the logistics of shipping deliveries and the wear and tear on vehicles in a real problem for Indian companies.

Another illuminated infrastructure woe was electricity “sharing.” As we walked around a large wholesale market in Delhi, we saw masses and masses of black wires hanging along the streets and forced into overloaded electrical boxes by just about every method imaginable. What we learned is that the wires we were seeing were from store owners who decided to “share” energy instead of purchase it for themselves. In total, 95% of the energy was pilfered, tapped from the 5% of businesses or individuals who faithfully paid for their electrical services. Those kind of numbers are outrageous for a group of shops that do billions of dollars of business a year.

Lastly, I found it difficult to understand a country that does not seem to place a priority on cleanliness, both culturally and via infrastructure. I found it shocking to see cart operators sweep trash away from their small “store fronts” directly into a pile of trash 2 feet away (as if that somehow eliminated the presence of the trash). It became commonplace to see large expanses of fields or ditches overflowing with food wrappers and papers and styrofoam. For one thing, we noticed a lack of trash receptacles available to throw the rubbish away. On the other hand, it was pretty obvious that the trash was not going anywhere anytime soon. Even if the government DID find a way to clean it all up, unless they could find a way to also change people’s mentality on littering, the problem of trash would perpetuate indefinitely. While clean streets and fields might not be an essential part to doing business in India, I think in a way it is indicative of the measures India has still to truly be considered a global competitor in today’s marketplace.

Categories: 2015 Trip

My two weeks in India have come to a close and I have been thrust back into the busyness of college. Although it has been quite an adjustment to have to retrieve my own coffee every morning, I believe as time goes on I will re-learn the habits of my pre-India lifestyle.

A few aspects of my encounter with Indian culture and business have stood out since returning to the United States. First, I found that the fundamental aspects that drive and shape business in India and the U.S. were surprisingly similar. In Bangalore we visited Infosys, and heard from one of their managers about the structure and goals of their HR process. All of the points he made were similar to ones I had heard in the U.S., and it surprised me that such similar business practices could exist in such drastically different cultures.

The second India-ism that impacted me has much greater implications. I first noticed it when I paid $3 for a meal that I needed help finishing. When I learned that most of the country lives on $2 per day the cheap prices I was seeing made more sense. It was overwhelming to see the living conditions of the people we drove by in our massive tourist bus. I found myself asking, “Do these people—the men and women who live in crumbling homes tapped into the nearest electricity line—do they feel the poverty they are in? Do they long for the day they can afford a clean, free-standing home?” I came to the realization that American and Indian standards of living (not just the conditions of living) are drastically different. I want to learn more about how the lower class in India lives, how they make their living, what their children grow up learning, and how a country with one sixth of the earth’s population sustains jobs for so many citizens.

A week removed from my visit, I realize that although I learned so much about the people, culture, business, and lifestyle of India, most of my learning will happen in the coming months as I reflect on what I saw and heard. I hope to gain a deeper understanding of Indian employment, poverty, and the separation between the upper and lower classes.

Categories: 2015 Trip

12/1/2014, that is the date today in India and how locals write down the date. This difference in recording the date is one of many small cultural differences I have noticed. Today I will be listing a few of the cultural differences and the one big idea that has been going through my head the entire trip.

-Personal space, many Indians will come extremely clue to us to ask questions or converse. This can be very shocking due to our social norms of a personal bubble and maintaining distance between people.

-Traffic, there are traffic lanes painted on the street, but I wonder about their purpose. They seem to serve more as suggestions as cars will attempt to fit as many people into the street as possible. WE have had many close encounters on our bus and seen them everywhere.

-Nonverbal Communication, the Indians have an interesting head nod that appears to have many meanings. Where Americans might nod their heads yes or shake their heads no, Indians will bobble their heads in a way that could signify many things. This has taken some time to get used to.

These four things mentioned are all ancillary differences, but are differences in culture. These and other differences made me think about the difference in American and Indian culture. This got me thinking, if I grew up as an Indian how much of who I am would be different, this is a hard question to ask. I first formulated it while observing the hustle and bustle of the city from an Indian mosque. It made me think about the person I have become and how much of that is dependent on American culture and my American family. Would I still be Christian (I think so), what would my values be, how would I act as a person, what would my goals be and how would I define happiness, are all questions that flew through my head while overlooking New Delhi. I truly believe many of the components of me that are intangibly “Rusty” would be the same, but many exterior facings facets of myself would be different. This is the importance of traveling, especially abroad. By seeing places foreign to you, you must intake vast amounts of information and try to process it all. There is great learning, but it also makes you think a lot about yourself in comparison to the new information. This introspection is one of the best benefits of studying abroad.

Categories: 2015 Trip