What I learned and earned as an exchange student at UPES
There is nothing that fosters growth more than the discomfort and confusion of entering a world so different from your own
It was late Spring and I was skimming my school emails when I froze in astonishment to read: ‘Your advisor has nominated you to be considered for a special study abroad program in India for the Fall of 2019’. I re-read the sentence a few times before absorbing the entirety of the invitation. I was the selected candidate from Supply Chain Management and Analytics program at Virginia Commonwealth University for student exchange program at UPES, India. What made this offer so special was that I was only required to pay for the plane ticket and travel health insurance. The University of Petroleum and Energy Studies in Dehradun, India, awarded me a full scholarship. It covered the costs of tuition, books, fees, room, and boarding. Only a small number of students get an opportunity to study abroad during their undergrad years and to receive a full scholarship to do so is nearly unheard of. Although I had never traveled outside of the US, I would have been foolish to turn down this incredibly generous opportunity. In August 2019, I flew out of Dulles International Airport for New Delhi, excited about what the adventure would bring.
After the plane touched down, I met a wall of heat and humidity. During the drive to campus, I fixated on the bright colours and bustling traffic. “We are not in Kansas anymore,” I thought to myself while sneaking smiles away from the rear-view mirror and driver’s reflection. Weeks later, I would recall this moment in an email to my advisors back home, stating: “I have become hyper-aware that in the US people walk on sidewalks and stand in lines, cars drive on the roads all in a row, cows are behind fences and monkeys are in zoos. Here, the monkeys, cows, people, and cars all share the roads in chaotic harmony, which oddly enough feels more natural.”
Fellow students greeted me and I received a warm welcome from the staff. At UPES, I met students from all over the world – France, Gambia, Mexico, Kenya, Canada, and Slovenia. As Indians are known for their hospitality, in nearly every interaction, my hosts offered me chai and inquired about my comfort. I had a full week to recover from my travels and acclimate to the new time zone before classes began.
I enrolled in classes such as Global Supply Chain Management, Product Lifecycle Management and Business Process Re-engineering, courses part of MBA in Logistics and Supply Chain Management program at the UPES School of Business. The classroom discussions about world trends were insightful. The school organised discussion panels and invited industry professionals who spoke about their careers and keys to success.
I became extremely close to two of the brightest students in the school, Jyoti Nathani and Kartik Khanna, who worked tirelessly on classroom assignments, projects and school organisations, all while helping me bridge the learning gap that all international students face in a foreign school. We prepared for exams together and ate meals in the mess hall. For Diwali, the festival of lights, they encouraged me to purchase a sari and attend the festivities. In our private chats, we spoke of the difficulties that millennials face and realized we shared challenges that transcended nations and distances. I regularly asked them questions about their Indian culture and the things they hoped to see change in their lifetime. When we weren’t working, we ate cheese momos at the local food stands and took trips to the movies.
Groups of international students would plan weekend excursions all over India. Monday to Friday I would work from sunup to sundown on my studies so that I could get the most out of my weekends. Late on Friday evenings, we would pile into sleeper buses to wake up in a magical new location on Saturday mornings with less than 48 hours to explore. On these excursions, I went paragliding over Dharamshala and saw the Golden Temple of Amritsar. I visited the Dalai Lama’s temple in the Himalayas and relaxed under palm trees on the remote beaches of Goa. I bought jewelry in Jaipur and marveled at the Taj Mahal in Agra. I took advantage of every opportunity to discover India, a choice I will never regret.
There were times when I missed my family and friends back home. Dorm life often had me pining for the privacy of my apartment in Richmond, VA. There were times I got lost in the busy cities and struggled to communicate in Hindi with the locals. But I would do it all over again, just as it happened. There is nothing that fosters growth more than the discomfort and confusion of entering a world so different from your own. I went to India on a mission to see the country and excel academically and through hard work and persistence, I was able to accomplish both. Reflecting on my Indian journey, I feel blessed for the incredible knowledge I took away from my professors and the lifelong friendships I made with people from all over the world.
(The writer was an exchange student at the UPES School of Business from August 2019 to January 2020. She recently completed her graduation in Supply Chain Management and Analytics from Virginia Commonwealth University)