For the past three months, we have seen and interacted in various measures with about eighty new faces from Italy, France, Belgium, Denmark, Mexico, Germany, Sweden, Poland and Austria at the IIM B campus. While we missed the company of more than a hundred PGP2s, the exchange students filled the campus with excitement. Most of them had spent their whole lives in Europe or North America, and like every one of us, had always dreamt of exploring the unknown. For them, India held the charm of an exotic and mysterious land, and that’s exactly what brought them to this country.
A Box Full of Surprises
The relatively few days spent in IIM B notwithstanding, the exchange students were in for a lot of surprises. One of them was how inexpensive everything was for them in India (thanks to the currency exchange rate). As Paul summed it up in all wonder, “I was amazed how cheap everything is in India. We traveled everywhere we could, ate everything we could digest, and bought everything we could carry. We lived a lavish lifestyle we couldn’t imagine living as a student. It’s going to be tough back home now. If I spend the way I spent here, I’m going to run out of money pretty soon.”
Being a tropical country, India is perceived to have high temperatures and warm weather conditions, especially by those coming from the cooler European regions, and such was the students too. But the pleasant Bangalore weather had different plans for them, as a lot of them declared it to be “the best thing” about Bangalore.
Sports were a bit of cultural shock too, especially cricket and kabaddi. Thanks to India’s tight cricket schedule and Pro Kabaddi League, these sports were a common sight for them on TVs in the mess. However, many found these sports to not be their cup of tea. “Kabaddi is the best sport in the world! But I was too scared to try it. After watching it, rugby seems to me like a game for kids.”, Paul remarked amusingly. Ermanno had a slightly different opinion about cricket. He said, with a puzzled expression, “I liked cricket a lot. But I could never totally figure it out. I am a simple man, I play football. You just run around, kick the big ball, and put it into the net. But cricket is so complicated, there are so many ways to get out.”
The one thing that they struggled a lot within the initial few days was (and still now in many cases) remembering and pronouncing the various Indian names. As Laura said with a sigh of relief, “It was so tough remembering all the names. I was afraid I’d offend the professors or students. Thankfully they saw the funny side of it.” Apart from the names, they managed to learn a few words too: Namaste, Dhanyawaad, Chai, Chalo, Shaanti, and of course a few expletives as well!!
Life at IIMB
Like all of us, they too found academics at IIMB to be hectic. The hostel life, however, was an experience of a lifetime. “IIMB is one of the most beautiful campuses I’ve ever seen. The stone walls and the greenery make it so unique. I loved living in the hostel. Everyone lives so nearby, everything is close by, it was so convenient. All the festival celebrations and parties were so exciting and we loved being a part of it.”, Ermanno said. When asked about the fondest memory of hostel life, Laura chose the Diwali celebration. She said, “It was so beautiful. You guys decorated the campus so well. The lights, the oil lamps, the paper lamps… the whole hostel looked so bright and energetic. It was great seeing all of you in your traditional clothes. I had a hard time wearing and walking around in a saree, I almost fell so many times.”
Indian food, as it’s always is the case with foreigners, was one of the most exciting aspects of coming to India. While for some many dishes were too spicy for their tongue, the rest intended to try as many dishes they could. They were astonished by the plethora of vegetarian dishes and the combination of colors in an Indian Thali. The most popular dish was Parantha, which Paul declared as “the best thing in the world”. He said, “There are like 50 varieties of it. You can make it with almost everything.” Traditional lunches/dinners in mess became fond memories for many of them. Tasting so many varieties in a single meal served by their fellow students dressed in traditional attire is bound to do so.
One opportunity that no exchange student would miss is traveling around in the country. Our guests did the same, as they explored places like Madurai, Mysore, Hampi, Rajasthan, Ladakh, Rameswaram, Chennai, Goa, Pondicherry, to name a few. Apart from the mountains, beaches, forests, discovering Indian culture and visiting temples were among the most stimulating aspects of their journeys. Sharing her traveling experience, Laura said, “India has such a beautiful culture. You can do all your research about the country from outside, but you can never understand the real feeling of India without visiting it. What I loved the most is how well India has retained its culture. The temples are so beautifully constructed, the sadhus and pandits have such rich knowledge about the culture, and there is such an aura of spirituality in the air.”
Time to go back
All good things come to an end, and so does the exchange term. “Crazy”, “surprising”, “astonishing”, “lovely”, “enriching” were the responses when the exchange folks were asked to summarize the whole experience in one word. As the time has come to pack their bags and return, they return with memories of a lifetime and a deep wish to come back again.