Monday, May 2, 2011

In addition to sightseeing around Delhi and Agra (including seeing the Taj Mahal!), we somehow managed to fit in several days of classroom time, company site visits, and even a case presentation. Just like an in-residence week in Bloomington, our days were packed full.

We took class and stayed at the Indian Institute of Management Lucknow in Noida. The campus was quite beautiful, and our Indian professors were exceptional. We also had numerous guest lecturers, who covered a range of topics including rural marketing, supply chain challenges, public private partnerships, cultural differences, and more. In addition, to deepen our learning experience, we spent a day touring two companies, Genpact and Maruti Suzuki, and received a unique inside look at India’s advanced auto manufacturing and service industries. Each day, we walked away from class so excited about what we learned. The opportunity to interact with prominent experts and visit Indian companies was incredible.

While our Indian classroom experience was similar to that of the US in some ways, at the same time, the cultural differences were evident. We quickly realized that actually applying our material on cultural differences was much more difficult than writing a paper on the topic. Our Indian faculty noticed the differences as well. Just as we had to adjust to a new classroom setting and different lecture styles, our professors had to adjust to our way of looking at things and our particular types of questions.

Tea times quickly became an important part of our classroom experience. Unlike the class breaks I was used to in the US, where everyone went their separate way for a few minutes to make a call or check email, in India these breaks were highly interactive. For around 30 minutes, both the professors and students engaged in conversation, using the time to build and strengthen relationships. I found this time to be very refreshing, an acknowledgment to the importance of spending time with one another.

During class, the electricity would cut out from time to time. We expected brownouts but what caught us by surprise was that our Indian professors didn’t miss a beat when the lights went off. They continued to seamlessly lecture (the computer and projector were on a back-up generator). We later joked that if something like this happened in US, half the class-time would be spent rebooting computers and getting everyone back on track. But in our Indian classroom, literally not a second of time was lost. In this, we found a lesson in flexibility and adaptability.

Just like in a US MBA program, case studies are a big part of the India curriculum, and we had to do a case analysis presentation for our final project. We found that the case was written in a different manner than what we were used to, and it took a little time to fully work through the material. In the end, our Indian professors were impressed with our work and really appreciated the fact that we approached the case differently than their Indian students. Although neither approach was superior, it reminded us that because of our culture, we see things differently.

Although we were completely exhausted at times, everything we fit into our days was necessary, as each element added so much depth to our learning experience. For example, our discussions around marketing in rural India wouldn’t have been nearly as impactful if we hadn’t seen some of India for ourselves first. The company visits emphasized that India has advanced and rapidly growing businesses, the tea times highlighted the importance of relationship building, the brownouts reminded us of the things we took for granted and the need to quickly adapt, and interactions with our Indian professors revealed that, through our cultural differences, we had a lot to learn from and teach one another.

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