By Omar Sofradzija
Alok Kumar Pandey didn’t come from India to East Lansing just to study. He also came to explore America.
“In the last four days I’ve traveled almost a lot of the eastern USA … New York, Washington D.C., Buffalo, and the Niagara Falls. It has been a great experience,” the 26-year-old mechanical engineer said recently. He, along with classmates from the Mumbai, India-based SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, was here for one of two three-week immersion programs being hosted by the Eli Broad College of Business this summer.
“Traveling was a great eye-opener for me. I always wanted to travel to the USA … people are very open to experiences here,” Padney said. “They want to experiment, they like to live their own lifestyle, where in India people are in a very structured manner. They have a way of doing things. Here, people are very open to experimentation.”
The cultural experience for the Indian students, all here to study through the world-renowned supply chain management program at the Broad College, is as big a point of the program as the in-class learning. Students were given from the afternoon of June 30 to the morning of July 5 to see the country as they wished.
“We’ve had students driving to Niagara Falls; we’ve had students actually driving to New York and Long Island,” said Keith Bezant Niblett, assistant director of customized and international programs for Broad College Executive Development Programs. “We’ve had students flying to Los Angeles. They’ve done Universal Studios there. Some students went to Orlando. A part of that is actually learning how you get around the United States. Some people have chosen to drive; some people fly; some of them have actually used Greyhound buses.”
“That’s all a part of the cross-culture experience: these future senior managers in Indian businesses mixing with everyday, ordinary Americans,” Niblett said. “They’ve actually said it’s been a delightful experience, talking with normal American people and not just on-campus students. That day-to-day U.S. experience becomes a very big element of what these students will take away from this immersion program.”
SP Jain is sending two groups of students to MSU this summer: 64 students were here June 25–July 12 through SP Jain’s version of a full-time MBA program. Another group of 55 students with SP Jain’s version of an executive MBA program will be here July 16 through Aug. 3. This is the seventh summer SP Jain has partnered with MSU for their immersion programs.
In class, “the theme of the three weeks of the first immersion program is sustainability and innovation and analytics – something that our regular courses (in India) don’t cover much in-depth – so the idea that we expect from this is to get a better understanding of how it’s applied in real terms and a better understanding of what the business environment is in the U.S.,” said Anshuman Sharma, 26, a second-year student in the SP Jain program. “Most of our studies revolve around Indian companies … this gives us a lot more insight of similarities and differences.”
Not only did they find cultural differences away from campus, but inside classrooms, too.
“There’s a lot more freedom in how you pursue your studies,” said Rituraj Pattanaik, 25, also a second-year student. “There’s a lot more freedom in exploring where you want to go with your work. There’s a lot more openness in where you can decide you want to take your work to.”
Pattanaik said at MSU, studies are more research-driven, while in India, it’s more structured. The former “is a good add-on” to the latter: “The biggest plus point educationally for me has been the research part … how to take management studies into research domain.”
Padney said the classwork here is “very much hands-on … that sets a great example of the application of education. We always say that this is academic and this is practical. The way I see it, it is very well-confluenced here between academics and practicality.”
In doing living projects working with American companies like Kelly Services, students also learn that global business is influenced by local customs.
“In today’s global business environment, you’re going to interact with a lot of people, and these experiences help a lot,” Padney said. “And to understand how people think and how they behave, and how that is correlated, because the behavior, the motivation is not the same across geographies.”
There are headaches, such as a time difference of around ten hours between East Lansing and India, that makes keeping connected with home a challenge. But the rewards are well worth any temporary problems.
“I will have stories to share,” said student Sanchit Garg, 26. “I can relate now what I’ve been taught in India and in the U.S. in class with what is happening in business and industry.”