Understanding India – an exchange perspective

(Daniel Warmuth is an exchange student at IIM Ahmedabad. He is currently studying Strategy, Innovation & Management Control at the WU – Vienna University of Economics and Business. Born in Vienna, Austria, he can be found mingling with his local and exchange friends at the sports complex, tennis courts, one of the restaurants and occasionally in the institute library. When you can’t find him on campus. he’s either exploring Ahmedabad, watching a movie or travelling across India)

Hey guys! My name is Daniel and I am from Vienna, Austria. Having studied abroad already in the United States during my Bachelor studies, I decided that the time had come for me to explore a new culture and a new continent. I thus chose IIM Ahmedabad to be the place for my second semester abroad. My time on campus is coming to an end and that’s why I sat down, trying to find out whether I can answer the question now: “Do I understand India?”

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My cousin’s daughter loves to go to the zoo in Vienna and, as a good uncle, I often go there with her. She loves to see elephants, monkeys, horses, camels, cows and penguins. I haven’t found a penguin in Ahmedabad yet, but it doesn’t take a lot of effort to find all the other animals on campus or on the streets right in front of our school. Without buying an entrance ticket you get to see nature at first hand mingled with the people and rickshaws in the streets. Riding a rickshaw and seeing animals in the street, trash piled up here and there and tons of people everywhere has become some form of daily routine after three months and this opens up your eyes to see new things and taken an even closer look.

Most of the foreign exchange students had to go through a registration process with the local authorities. After several unsuccessful tries from my side I had already given up on registering, until all of a sudden luck and randomness got me into contact with a particularly high level official. He told me he would take care of everything, and indeed, just by mentioning his name all doors opened all of a sudden. The entire process was over even faster than it was supposed to be and I could understand what it meant for people to only work under the supervision of their boss. Ironically, I’ve seen the students at IIM-A also sometimes work only under grades pressure and on the very last second! The Indians have somehow managed to cover this with the fancy term jugaad, now an export hit as a new management philosophy!

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Ok, Daniel – You saw some cows on the streets and bureaucracy doesn’t work as efficiently as in Europe. Is that it?

Well, those are probably the most obvious and most striking things you have to overcome at first. Once you accomplish this you can fully start enjoying the wonderful and positive sides of India.

This country is the home to some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. There are people you have only met a few minutes ago, who would be willing to put their head on the block for you. But the best thing is the friendships you make along the way of studying abroad here. Even though getting your friends to send you powerpoint slides for a presentation in time for class might occasionally feel like talking to a white wall, they are there within a second when you need their help outside of school. I feel like even though it’s just been three months, my friends on campus would pretty much do everything I asked them to. They are there for me and would go with me through thick and thin and that is something very special.

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They also showed me around the city and travelled with me to ensure I would see some of the Indian culture. Indian festivals will stay in my mind forever, because of the power, joy and enthusiasm of the people. I have seen so many wonderful colors here, that Europe must look like a black and white movie compared to it. I have also seen people dancing with unprecedented energy, doing moves that would send me directly to an OR.

I have also travelled the country, trying to see as much as possible and understand as good as possible. I explored a fort in Jodhpur, rode a camel through the desert in Jaisalmer, strolled around Jaipur, visited the Taj Mahal in Agra, ate delicious food in Delhi, rolled a mountain bike down the highest road of the world in Leh, partied in the Aer Lounge in Mumbai, cruised on a pink scooter around Diu, enjoyed the beaches of Goa, watched a Formula 1 race in Delhi and celebrated Diwali in Udaipur. All of this I did with my wonderful friends and my wonderful girlfriend.

I came closer to understand this wonderful, exciting, beautiful and different country and I am a happy and thankful person for experiencing and learning so much. But it is a challenge of a lifetime to actually be able to say “I understand India”, I guess. Probably even for the Indians themselves…