MIKELL HAZLEHURST’S SEMESTER IN INDIA YIELDS AN EDUCATION IN BUSINESS AND CULTURE, PLUS A FEW SIDE-TRIP ADVENTURES
I like to call India one of those love-hate countries. Everyone I spoke to before leaving would tell me, “You’re gonna love it!” or, “Don’t go, it’s awful!” Traveling to the country for a semester-long exchange program through the University of Memphis MBA program, I decided I would keep an open mind.
I discovered that India can stimulate your senses in ways that will leave you bewildered but entranced. Initially, you may be shocked by some Indian behaviors and practices. For example, there seems to be no concept for waiting in line. Public trash cans do not exist or, if they do, I never saw one. The traffic is absolutely insane, with men hopelessly attempting to direct the never-ending flow of vehicles. You’ll see a motorcycle carrying three people, one of whom is holding a baby. But these are the images you’ll forever remember, and for that reason, grow to love the country that boasts 1.28 billion people.
After a three-week sojourn through Southeast Asia I met a young nurse on the flight from Singapore who told me I would love Bangalore. I began to anticipate what the fourth-largest city in India would offer. The campus at the Indian Institute of Management was flawless. Architecturally, it was one of the most impressive campuses I had ever seen. Regardless of my whereabouts, I always felt as if I were outside because of the gigantic, open-air windows and skylights that filtered rays of sunshine onto the concrete and stone walkways. The plant life was extraordinary, and the local landscapers were meticulous in their maintenance of the grounds.
My peers at IIMB were brilliant. I wasn’t surprised to see the school listed among the top 100 MBA programs in the Financial Times Executive Education 2015 rankings. When figuring out where I wanted to study abroad, it was the prestige of IIMB that was the deciding factor – that and my fascination with Asia. This was my third visit to the continent.
I was one of two Americans on campus that semester. The other student was from the University of Chicago, and we bonded instantly. All of the other exchange students were from Europe, the majority coming from France or Germany. We had many group projects, comprising both exchange and Indian students. The Indian students rarely slept more than a few hours each night and would schedule meetings that often ran well into the wee hours of the morning.
The experience greatly enhanced my communication skills, as I was usually selected as spokesman for our presentations because my native language is English. One of my favorite courses was Self-Transformation – An Indian Approach. Each class began with 15 minutes of silent meditation and explored the different theologies that focus upon meditative techniques. Our professor would bring in experts in the field, and one of our best visitors was a Pranayama breathing guru. Proponents of meditation such as Al Gore and Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, swear by its benefits. Since returning from the program, I have used meditative techniques during times of the day when I need rejuvenation.
When our classes were not in session, there were countless opportunities for adventure. Trains were the cheapest and most interesting means of transportation. For one of my first breaks, I headed to the west coast of India and spent a few days in Goa at a beach called Palolem, which is where Matt Damon was running in the opening scene of The Bourne Supremacy. I also took a bus to visit the UNESCO-protected ancient village of Hampi and explored its timeless ruins. Sri Lanka was one of my favorite countries in all of Asia, and I spent 10 days on a motorbike traveling around the southern beaches and national parks.
I ended my stay in India with a trip to Rajasthan, starting off in its capital, Jaipur, which is the city featured in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I rented a motorcycle for two days and weaved my way through The Pink City, as Jaipur is called, to world-famous sites such as the Amer Fort. Approaching the fort, I was surprised to see a man riding an elephant through one of its gates. The ramparts sprawled throughout the surrounding mountains, and I spent several hours hiking up to various vantage points to snap photos. I escaped death several times amongst the lawless traffic, but my experience in Jaipur was exhilarating. My last stop was the Taj Mahal in Agra, and I cannot describe the sight of the world’s most beautiful building other than to say it is exactly that. I woke up to a nearby mosque’s call to prayer, and I had breakfast on the rooftop of a hotel while waiting for the gates of the Taj to open. I kept imagining that not much had changed since Richard Halliburton 1915 spent the night there more than 90 years ago.
I had to catch a flight back to the USA the next day, and it took me roughly 33 hours to get from Agra to Tennessee. The months I spent in India certainly tested my patience and taught me to not take anything for granted. Reverse culture shock can be an issue for people who spend significant time abroad. It was only upon my return that I began to miss those honking horns and smelly streets. The saying, “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone” resonated with me not only in India but also when I returned home. I hope my story will inspire you to venture out and explore the world. Memphis has a special place in my heart, but I’m glad to have seen what else the world has to offer.
Hopscotching Through Southeast Asia
Before beginning my semester at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, I took three weeks to check out the remaining countries in Southeast Asia I had not yet visited. After arriving in the Philippines via Hong Kong, I flew to one of the archipelago’s most remote islands, Palawan. It was here that Alex Garland was inspired to write his novel The Beach, which later was adapted into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The limestone cliffs and blue water in El Nido were all I needed to forget about the 24-plus hours it took me to get there. I paid maybe $15 to sleep in a rustic cottage that had waves breaking at my doorstep.
I then ventured over to the island of Borneo to touch down on Brunei soil. When I landed in Bandar Seri Begawan, it was about 2 o’clock in the morning, and my hotel driver was waiting for me. I began to notice how clean and modern this petroleum-rich country looked. I didn’t see a speck of trash.
I took a bus to the city center to grab some breakfast and met a Kiwi couple who had also just arrived. We decided to tour the Sultan’s Royal Regalia Museum, which celebrates more than 600 years of the royal family’s rule. We then took a stroll along the stilted walkways on the Kampong Ayer, a water village people often refer to as the Venice of the East. It sounds romantic, and it might have been if it weren’t for the quality of the wood that held me above the water. I almost fell through several times, but that only added to the adventure. Everyone living in these stilted homes commutes into town via water taxis. We hailed one of the wooden boats because the Kiwi couple wanted to see some proboscis monkeys. Our driver didn’t speak a word of English, but he did take us into the jungle, and we managed to catch a glimpse of the long-nosed monkey.
In Myanmar, I spent about a week climbing pagodas in Bagan and riding boats on Inle Lake. I spent my last days before starting classes in Bangalore in Singapore, where I was able to tour a Cummins Inc. facility. I worked for Cummins’ Global Logistics in Memphis the summer before my trip, so I was able to set up a meeting with several leaders. I was impressed by the sheer wealth and amount of commerce in Singapore. The tiny city-state is running out of land, so the warehouses were stacked up like skyscrapers. I made the mistake of booking a room next to a mosque, which began to sound the Friday call to prayer around 4 o’clock in the morning. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep, but my time in Singapore convinced me to return sometime. The museums, food, and underground shopping malls made for an exciting couple of days before I flew to India.