India the Dysfunctional Success

 

India has been really amazing. The big it factor that I took away from India was that it was truly a “mess that worked”. With so much traffic, businesses, and emerging markets, intertwined with the vast diversity in culture and ideologies it was hard to believe this country is on the forefront of things such as software development and analysis. In addition to the growing economy the difference from the United States was enormous. With struggling infrastructure of roads, sewage, and trash systems it was very humbling when arriving back in the United States of America.

While the US is a boiling pot of people from different ethnic background, India shed a new light on cultural diversity. The population of India is so immense and then adding in the different portions of the country that have been ruled by so many different emerging powers over the last centuries it is no wonder why India is so unique. While in the US people may speak English differently and saw a few words some normally wouldn’t use, or just use words in different ways India was completely different. It was so remarkable to me how we could go to a different part of the country and the language all-together as well as the main food, etc. had all changed. The great population has also had a huge effect on various other parts India.

India’s population in addition to being culturally diverse is affecting all the traffic, infrastructure or lack there of, and pollution. In many parts of India we had to leave several hours early to arrive at a destination that may have taken half the time to travel in the US due to the traffic. However, the traffic is bad mainly because of course the population, but is increased a lot by the lack of infrastructure. One example that was I like to use in particular was driving through Agra, which was the only way to get to the Taj Mahal (the country’s biggest tourist attraction and money maker by far), the roads had hug pot holes everywhere, with no road lines, low hanging electric wires, cows and people crossing the street, and various other things that the country should be obligated to improve. Other places I understood the lack of infrastructure, but it stunned me to see the roads that led up to such an important and monumental part of India.

India was a melting pot of different cultures, and ideas that lead to creative minds that think outside the box. This trip helped me realize why India works, and that’s because the people have a drive to survive and to do so in a country with such a huge population they have to be extremely competitive to earn success.

Categories: 2015 Trip

From the moment my feet touched American soil once more, my brain has been processing my 2 weeks in India. I really feel like sensory overload only begins to describe my experience oversees. Before leaving, people described India as a third-world nation, which honestly surprised me. I had never conceived that a nation in the top 5 countries of economy growth could be third world. But after walking on the streets where trash is at the tip of every footstep, riding in the tuk-tuks that swerve to fill any gap on the road, and using restrooms that you have to hold your nose I began to understand. The third world status comes not from the developing economy—which is taking huge strides forward—but rather from the delayed infrastructure and the means by which it rests physically.

One of my favorite days on the trip was spent at SDMIMD—a local business university in Mysore, India. It was there that I really gained insight into the passion that lies within the Professors, businessmen and women, and students of India. We started off our day with a presentation given by Dr. Robert Grobbauer on doing business in India. He spoke on many of the pros and cons to Indian business. He spoke on the upsides of democracy and the freedom that lies within in it, but also the difficulty this forms in making quick decisions. Everyone has an opinion that demands to be heard. The huge consumer base that lies within the Indian population alone provides enormous potential for Indian businesses. The largest con per say that Dr. Grobbauer spoke of was the weak infrastructure. From the increased time everything takes to the inconsistencies amongst Indian states to complicated legal system and procedures, India has some major work to do. If the economy is to continue to strive, the infrastructure must not hold them back.

The Indian market must not only keep up with other economies, but also catch up. Other markets do not sleep. I’m rooting for you India! May your passion and discipline lead you continuously forward.

Categories: 2015 Trip

Upon my arrival at home and now in College Station, I have constantly been asked, “How was India? Tell me all about it”. I catch myself saying the same thing every time. I tell them, India was amazing, but completely different than what you might think that it is. Sure, there are elephants and extravagant temples and women in colorful sarees, but most people do no realize or imagine the crowded streets, cows and stray dogs everywhere you look, lack of trash cans, delicious nan, or paying to go to the restroom. I am so glad that I was able to experience India and get a glimpse of what it is really like. We were able to see not only the struggles of simple things such as traffic, but also the struggles of operating a successful business in India. The hurdles that most companies are required to overcome are astronomical compared to the free market and conditions we face here at home. In some of my previous classes, we have discussed different aspects of Indian business and culture, but no amount of in depth discussion or PowerPoint presentations can shed light on what life and business is truly like in India. I kept a notebook of random thoughts and notes that I figured were worth keeping track of, which I highly suggest anyone going on the trip in the future to do. Some of my notes simply say “trash everywhere” or “met the sweetest kids at the school today”, but each one of the notes spark a specific memory that I will be able to keep forever. I also plan on making a photo book to have for myself and for my family. It is easier to show people with pictures what the experience was like rather than attempting to explain every detail. I tried to take pictures that captured the beauty of India, but I also wanted to capture and remember the rougher side of India. It is amazing to me that a country can have one of the Seven Wonders of the World (Taj Mahal) and at the same time have people living poverty only blocks down the street. I was also astounded at the amount of money poured into some of the temples, containing large solid gold figures and precious stones, while again people are fighting for a living in the same town.

My advice to future travelers is simple; soak it in! India is an extremely unique study abroad experience and there are so many things to see and learn. Talk to the locals! One of my favorite memories is the afternoon a friend and I spent speaking with students from a local architecture university in Bangalore. We spent the afternoon at a restaurant next to our hotel just discussing the differences in culture (many of them have been to the United States), politics, education, etc. It was incredible to hear their perspective and to see how aware of the differences they were. There is quite a bit of free time in the evenings! Spend it wisely! Go to the markets and local restaurants. Koshy’s in Bangalore is a great option. No air conditioning, but hey! It was an experience.

Overall, I had a great time in India and anyone going in the future should be excited for the trip! You’ll have an experience of a lifetime, that’s for certain.

 

-Caroline Fluke

Categories: 2015 Trip

Namaste! I can’t believe I’ve already been back in the US for a week. How time flies… This past week has given me some ample time to get to reflect and process. All in all, I’m so incredibly thankful to have had this experience. I firmly believe that there are some things that text books can’t fully teach you, and culture is one of those things. Firsthand experience is really what it takes to acquire an accurate understanding. I also believe that you can’t put a price on some things, and this India trip is a prime example. The memories made and lessons learned are far greater than any monetary value.

I very much enjoyed the opportunity to explore how culture can affect the dynamics of an international business environment. Out of all of our corporate visits, I think I most enjoyed our time with Akshaya Patra and the school children it benefited. It was so uplifting and rejuvenating to hear the laughter and joy of all these kids that are being positively impacted by the work Akshaya Patra is doing. A close second was the factory visit with TVS Motors. Learning about who the “typical” Indian customer is and what they want in a product, as compared to the US, was very interesting.

As far as cultural visits, seeing the Mysore Palace and the safari ride were two of my favorites as well. Though, our evenings free in which we were able to explore and experience the culture in our own ways were extremely fun. From roaming around the markets to seeking out local restaurants, there was always something to look forward too. As the trip progressed and I became more and more accustomed to the Indian culture, I think I began to enjoy our evenings off even more too. Overtime, the things that seemed “strange” at the beginning of the trip became more and more normal, and even enjoyable. This exemplified the truth that we, as humans, so often see “different” and automatically tag it as “bad” or “wrong”. But this trip reminded me of the importance of staying open minded and learning to appreciate “different” for what it is, not what is isn’t as seen through the lens of comparison.

To sum this all up, if you have ever had even the slightest inkling of interest in going to India—do it. The experience will be unlike any other, and I’m willing to bet you will find the culture as fascinating as I did. Sure, there may be many differences from the US, but there are also many similarities. And best of all, you’ll learn more about the Indian culture than a textbook could ever teach you.

Categories: 2015 Trip

After my two weeks in India I know that India is definitely the most unfamiliar and eye opening place I have ever traveled to in my life. I am so glad and thankful that I was able to participate in this unique experience in which I learned many lessons about foreign cultures and how business overseas is conducted. When comparing culture and business the culture was almost a polar opposite of what I am used to in America. However, with business I was able to see that it is fairly universal.

There are several aspects of the culture that have really stuck with me even after the trip ended. First, because of the amount of people living in a compact area, there is almost zero concept of personal space. Everyone is trying to get things done and don’t mind if they brush up against you. At the beginning of the trip we were standing in line to store our bags before going into a fort and we were getting cut left and right. We had a small space between us and the people in front of us because that’s normal for us. However, we had to stand where we were physically touching the person in front of us just to get through the line. Also, just walking and driving around in crowded areas you have to be assertive and lose your sense of a personal bubble if you actually want to get anywhere. Second, it was very interesting to see the peaceful coexistence of so many different religions and beliefs. We visited at least four or five different religions’ place of worship and nowhere did I see any kind tension or violence. Nor did I feel unwelcome while in those places of worship. While in India we were lucky enough to go to mass at a beautiful Catholic church and I was shocked to find that the service was almost exactly identical to those in America. The universality of Christianity and who Jesus Christ is was an amazing thing to see. Third, I was surprised to learn how different the different states in India were. Each state essentially has its own culture within India. Different languages, music, dances and even regulations for businesses exist between the Indian states. It is not uncommon for the average Indian citizen to speak two or three Indian languages in addition to English. This leads me to my last point of how surprised I was at the amount of English speakers there were. They start teaching kids English in the first grade and it is also the language of business in India so most of the people I encountered were able to speak it.

Going to India I expected to encounter different business practices and strategies but found out that business is pretty universal. The biggest difference is that India’s business is conducted heavily through mom and pop shops which make a lot of the people entrepreneurs. Their livelihood depends on selling their goods which is one of the reasons they are more aggressive with their sales tactics. I learned quickly to not make eye contact and to ignore most shopkeepers’ questions because they will do anything possible to lure you into their store.  Most common goods, supplies, and food items were sold in this manner and not by large corporations. One of the benefits of the mom and pop shops is that there isn’t a tax of any kind when you buy things there. Because of this, the chains and bigger companies that do have taxes are pretty heavy. Because there are lots of Indians who aren’t paying taxes on a daily basis they need to make up the revenue somewhere. You also have to negotiate pretty hard with the shop owners or you will get ripped off. However, in general how they run their shops and the strategies of the corporations we visited were similar to the United States. One of the unique challenges in India is a lack of infrastructure. This makes moving goods around slower and more expensive. For instance, in Bangalore, commercial trucks line up during the day because they aren’t allowed to enter the city until 10pm. The reason is the traffic in the city is terrible due to not enough driving space. That being said there are also good things about doing business in India. One of those is the abundance of cheap labor. TVS Motors had an assembly line that had more manual labor than we would see in America simply because it is cheaper to do so. Also, the large population sets up a large consumer market in which to sell products to. All in all, India is a wonderful place that has certain obstacles that it can overcome to be a great economy and democratic country.

 

 

Categories: 2015 Trip

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