Advice to future students coming to India

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Where do I begin! I could go on and on about advice to give to future students, but I'll leave you with four things:

  • 1)      Try everything! By this I mean from the activities you do to the food you eat. At first glance, Indian food can look a bit weird or even disgusting. Trust me, give it a chance. In the case you eat something too spicy, eat some rice curd afterwards. Rice curd is the neutralizer after eating all the masala (spice) filled food. Also on some days if you are not feeling very well, eat naan and avoid the spicy food. Next, get used to paneer! I personally loved it, and I had it almost every meal. If you eat non-veg then there will be other options. Also try all the activities. Don't skip any site visits or any planned events. These events are where the memories will be created.
  • 2)      Be open minded, outgoing! To get the most of your experience, constantly try to strike up conversations with random people. For me this comes naturally as I like talking (often too much). For example, when we reached Bangalore airport the bus was running late. I talked in my broken Hindi/English mix to 3 to 4 taxi drivers. I asked them questions like how do you like Bangalore, what is there to do here for fun, etc... Only if you ask will you find out. Also be ready to look like a fool on stage. Jackson and I rapped our introductions on stage. Sure we looked like fools, but we had fun in the process. These are the memories that you will remember.
  • 3)      Keep a diary/Journal! This might seem cheesy, especially for guys but this is a must. If you take notes from your trip, then you can reflect on them and cherish the memories later on. These notes can include the site visits, temple visits, but also late night adventures to bars, McDonalds etc... Keep notes as this will help trigger memories.
  • 4)      Don't be overprotective of yourself! In the orientation you get, the articles you read online, you will probably get the idea that India is a sketchy place. Well let me tell you it is not. Obviously be cautious, travel in groups, but have fun. India is a country full of nice people. When a few of us went to eat sushi one night, we probably asked 5 people how to get there. They all were happy to help us.

Lastly, enjoy. This is a class, but in reality it is more like a vacation. Go to site visits, ask questions, be outgoing, and have fun. This will all help in creating those life long memories.


Toy man and team, Did he just do that?!

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Throughout our whole stay in Bangalore, we were fortunate to have Christ University be our hosts. Christ University took care of us like we were family. They ensured we had the best food, accommodations, and entertainment. One night for entertainment, Dr. Suniti Padhke brought in a dance group. This dance group was very talented to say the least. They did a variety of dances including classical, doll dance, and festive.

The first dance was the swagat (welcome) dance. In this dance they used flowers to welcome us. I was astonished to see all the different hand and eye movements used in this dance. I knew that Indian dance consisted of this, but I learned that each hand or eye movement has significance.

The next dance was one done by the only man in the group. I believe he was the instructor of the rest of the group. John and I called him Toy man as he looked like a wood figure toy in one of the dances. The dance he performed consisted of him dancing on a plate and vases while balancing candles on his head, and hands. At first this looked like an audition for America's Got Talent. After the show, I asked him the significance of the dance. He said the dance signified the festival of Diwali or lights. He also took part in the doll dance in which he and a female dancer were connected by a string. They danced to the music, but acted like they were dolls. Their facial expressions looked like that of a doll. Their performance was very well done.

View image of Toy Man in cultural dance.

The final dance done was the festive dance. In this dance, dancers from the group danced in a more classical style. They danced to the song "Rangeelo Taro Dhol Na." This was amazing to hear and see as I had danced to the same song at my cousins wedding a few years back. I even remembered doing some of the same dance moves they were doing!

Overall, the evening performance was light but entertaining. Maybe I'll get Toy Man's number and ask to join his dance group!

India: Where classmates became family

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I'll be the first to admit it, as finals finished and I was packing my bag, I was thinking if this study abroad was a bad idea. Going to a country as diverse as India with classmates who I still didn't even know their names! Especially since throughout the class, John and I would always be talking while everyone else was quiet. To say I was worried about India was an understatement. I flew separate from the group as I planned on staying in India longer (I am still in India and loving it). When I arrived, my luggage didn't make it with me. I was thinking in my head "oh great, just the way this trip should start..." However, by the end of our stay in Delhi I had forgotten about my luggage and didn't really even care because of the kindness of our group. My roommate, David let me borrow clothes which helped a lot. Kamala even offered me some skirts if I needed! Kindness was something that our group was not lacking!

A lot of the bonding happened over food when we would go out, in the hotel rooms where we would hang out, or even the bumpy bus! Given my outgoing personality, I tried to talk with everyone in our group. As I talked to each member of our group, I learned something interesting about everyone. Throughout the trip, I was able to see the personalities of the group. Though a lot of our group was quiet at times, we all became such close friends. We essentially became one big happy family.

The bonding experience that I remember from the trip the most was at Cockroach Village (Kengari Campus). That night, myself, John, Patrick, Kamala, and Alexis all slept in one room. John and I made makeshift beds out of chairs and tried to sleep. Meanwhile, other group members were playing cards in the room across the hall. This is a night I will always remember as we bonded over the cockroaches, beetles, lizards, etc... Whatever you could think of was in our room! This opened my eyes and made me realize how fortunate we are in America.

Friendship is something that just happens. Many times there is no rhyme or reason. It's hard for me to describe why I loved our group, but we are a group who will be in touch for a long long time. It's sad that the nights laughing with my "family" have come to an end. Maybe we'll have to have a sleepover sometime in the near future!

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BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Akshardham

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This visit personally helped me connect to my religion. On May 20th, after eating at the Chor Bizarre restaurant, I asked the group if anyone wanted to come with me to see this beautiful temple called "Akshardham". To my surprise, everyone was like sure let's go! Being foreign to that part of Delhi we all set off on the journey. By foot, we made it to the train station that would take us to Akshardham. Since we went at around 7pm, the trains were full as people were going home from work. Regardless, the whole group pushed their way onto the train. Though the train was crowded, I was surprised to see the cleanliness and how modern the trains were. The inside of the trains were very similar to the lightrail we have in Minneapolis. Once we got off at our stop (luckily it was the right stop), we had to walk about 1km to reach gate 4 of Akshardham. We were asked to enter through the back gate since we were to be given a private tour.

Once we reached, golf carts took the group to the VIP lounge. Here the volunteers gave the group bottled water and some souvenirs from Akshardham. To me this was normal, however some of the group members were astonished when I told them that all the people working at Akshardham are volunteers of BAPS (I myself am also a volunteer of BAPS in North America). Next, we proceeded to the boat ride. The 10 minute boat ride explained the Hindu culture and accomplishments. Here, we learned about famous people such as Arya Bhatt who invented the number 0. Then we went to see the main attraction, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Akshardham. For me, just looking at the monument gave me a feeling of shanti (peace).

Once entering Akshardham, you are greeted by the divine murti (idol) of Shri Swaminarayan Bhagwan (Lord Swaminarayan). This murti is made from the 5 holy metals. The weight of the idol is more than a ton! On the sides of Lord Swaminarayan is the lineage of spiritual successors. As we walked around inside, the Akshardham had different sections inside. Each section has carvings centered on a particular age of Lord Swaminarayan. From childhood to initiation into the Swaminarayan sector, each carving has significance.

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The word Akshardham is a compound word. The word "Akshar" means gods ideal devotee, and "Dham" means abode. Akshardham therefore is the divine abode of Lord Swaminarayan and his ideal devotees. Akshardham can be compared to Heaven in the Christian religion. Akshardham was completed in only 5 years which consisted of 300 million man hours, all voluntary (I am proud to say I was a part of this).

This visit connected me back to religion and my guru, His Divine Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Only through his guidance and inspiration was this possible. I am proud to say that BAPS is making an Akshardham in North America in Robbinsville, NJ. Construction is underway and Pramukh Swami Maharaj will be coming in August to sanctify the land. I am even more excited to see my guru later on in India. Bolo Pramukh Swami Maharaj Ni Jay! (Hail to Pramukh Swami Maharaj)

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Site Visit to Infosys

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As the gates opened, I thought I was no longer in India. The bumpy ride had come to an end. I got out and noticed that we were here. The majestic campus of Infosys in Mysore is a sight to see. Being a MIS major, I was extremely excited to be visiting Infosys. To say the Infosys campus lived up to the hype is an understatement. The campus is very modern and well maintained. We were taken around in a golf cart near the end of the visit and given a tour of the whole campus.

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Prior to the campus tour, we were given a presentation on Infosys, and particularly the global education center in Mysore. Through the presentation, I gained better knowledge on the company history, size, values, social initiatives, and training. My personal favorite was the focus that Infosys has on training and education. The person speaking to us (I forgot his name, so we'll call him "Joe") said "In god we trust, in everything else we test." This was the idea that for learning, testing is key. He went on to say that failures are part of learning. The learning model used at Infosys consists of three core competencies: sound knowledge, skill set, and attitude. Joe went on to say that at Infosys, attitude is key. Only when you are completely in the "shoes" of the customer are you able to deliver exactly what the customer is wanting. The last part of training which I enjoyed was how training at Infosys is not a destination, instead it is a journey. At Infosys Joe said, "Training is a comma, not a period."

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Since Infosys gives their employees a salary to learn (I wish Carlson was like this), attendance is key. Infosys designed a software that can track attendance of employees in training. As Joe mentioned this software improved overtime as the "bugs" were found. One bug was a friend of an employee who wouldn't show would login for him. This was solved as the 4 keys to be pressed simultaneously were on both sides of the keyboard. This was very cool to learn about this technology as I love new software!

Overall, this site visit was awesome! I loved the campus, philosophy, and values of Infosys. This was by far my favorite site visit. I love their slogan as well: Powered by intellect, driven by values. Hopefully, someday Infosys hires me! :)


KFC in India! Say whaaa?!

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After a few days of eating authentic Indian cuisine, I was craving American food. At the Delhi airport, we were fortunate to see what looked like an American Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). Immediately, the adaptations could be seen. The two things that stuck out to me the most were the adaptations in the menu as well as price.

Initially, when the group decided to eat at KFC, I was hesitant as I never have been in America. The reason being that in America, KFC has no vegetarian options. The menu at KFC in India however had many vegetarian options (almost half the items were vegetarian!) In India being a vegetarian was also easier. All food packaging had either a green or red dot which represented a veg or non-veg food item. I personally got a dish which consisted of rice and paneer. Never having been to KFC in America, making a comparison in food is difficult. On the other hand, I have ate a lot of traditional Indian cuisine. The KFC dish which I got did have an Indian "kick" to it. I am sure this is not normal at KFC in America. The use of masala (spices) was easily noticeable in my food. Regardless, I enjoyed my meal.

The other adaptation seen was the pricing of the menu. I hardly noticed any items for more than 250 rupees (this is on the high end). I have seen commercials in America for KFC where a 10 piece chicken bucket costs $6. The KFC in India was selling a similar 8 piece chicken set for 200 rupees ($3). Even my meal costs me around 100 rupees, which to us Americans is pocket change.

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Overall, India has done a great job in adapting an American fast food chain (KFC). Who knew Kentucky Fried Chicken could make a global presence in a country consisting of over 50% vegetarians?!

The Himalaya Drug Company: Wellness Since 1930

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      The Himalaya Drug Company started as a one-man operation with a pharmaceutical focus and is based on the traditional science of Ayurveda. Ayurveda is specific to Indian origin. The company focuses on preventative and curative wellness in every home through herbal healthcare. Its first drug related to hypertension. The company started with a small investment of only $2 and today, is worth $250 million. In 1955, Liv 52, one of the world's top selling drugs, was developed. Further, in 1975, an advanced manufacturing facility was built in Bangalore which later became the corporate headquarters of the company. 1998 marked the first change (i.e. diversification) in its product line with the introduction of Animal Healthcare products. Himalaya Drug Company adopted a new, unified brand identity in 2001 where all divisions came under one umbrella brand. It holds the second largest market share in India behind Johnson and Johnson in its complete range of herbal baby care products. One of the presenters during this site visit told us that Indian consumers are not ready for organic products. They are simply too costly and no demand exists, which is why 'Organique' is only marketed in the U.S. and not India. Overall, the Himalaya Drug Company has over 200 head-to-heel products and 40 pharmaceutical products. It markets primarily through doctors but are sold over-the-counter. Leading medical institutions have endorsed many of the company's products, and moreover, these products have been accredited by more than 250 research studies in 65 countries. Pure herbs, which target the aliment directly, are also sold by Himalaya Drug Company. Additionally, in the face wash category, its Purifying Neem Face Wash is among the Top 2 selling brands, Unilever being number one. With 85 patents filed over the last eight years, 12 of those patents have been granted. A quote that resonated with me was that, "To be world class, Indian companies have to have a single focus; they cannot be in 25 different businesses." Finally, a challenge that the Himalaya Drug Company faces is countering the myths of Ayurveda or herbal medicines and trying to change perceptions. In working through this challenge, it continually "creates a bank of goodwill" and since 2007, has renewed its focus on PR.

Swaminarayan Akshardham

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            On one of our first free evenings in New Delhi, our group, led by Kush, decided to venture out and visit Swaminarayan Akshardham, a Hindu temple. Kush is affiliated with the BAPS, a global socio-spiritual organization, and therefore, was able to get us in to see the temple after normal business hours. A tour guide stayed late for us, and we were given a private tour including a boat ride at the Sanskruti Vihar exhibition. The boat ride was essentially a voyage of the Indian culture and its accomplishments to date. Thanks to Kush, our visit to Swaminarayan Akshardham was an exclusive sort of deal! Just traveling to the temple was quite a journey on its own as we had to take the metro transit in India (for the first and only time) and then weave our way in and out of the crowd and street vendors as we walked by foot the rest of the way. Needless to say, there was absolutely zero breathing room on the metro transit in India, and at times, the doors would not even close properly because peoples' bodies and limbs were in the way. You had no personal space. After experiencing a single ride on the metro transit in India, I will never again make a fuss about the Minneapolis metro transit services!

            The various details surrounding the construction of and history behind the temple are fascinating. To my surprise, it took 32 years to acquire the land where Swaminarayan Akshardham now resides and only five years to build the 100-acre, majestic complex. The stone work of the temple was completed in Rajasthan, and to increase the pace of the work, 24 other workshops were set up in neighboring villages. Acquiring and preparing the stones for installation was a massive undertaking; the designs for each stone were approved by sadhus after extensive research was done. More than 7,000 artisans were employed. Further, the temple is surrounded by 148 hand carved, stone elephants to create the Gajendra Peeth. The man-hours of labor and voluntary services that were put into creating Swaminarayan Akshardham totaled the unthinkable--300 million. Shri Satish Gujaral, a world-renowned artist and architect, once stated, "It's not just the time they took that is admirable but what is created. It is a very beautiful place, very well planned and, as I told you before, it can make a non-believer become a believer."
      First, let me admit that we were rather spoiled by Christ University with our accommodations in India; the hotels that we stayed at and their guest services were superb. With this is mind, our one night stay at Kengeri campus was a hysterical disaster! Not only that but we were also in a sort of remote area; the nearest restaurant was 30 minutes away. The minute we walked into the lobby, I saw beetles, cockroaches, centipedes, etc. You name it. Thankfully, there had been a confusion in our dinner plans, so the bus took us, along with Mindy, to the nearest McDonald's. Believe me, we spent as much time in that McDonald's as possible, and conveniently, it was located in a shopping center! We took full advantage of the situation and even shopped for a bit, but only after enjoying a relaxing feast at McDonald's hosted by the Carlson School of Management. :) Upon returning to Kengeri campus, we were in for an unsettling surprise. Two of the rooms had lizards in them! On top of that, we were all placed in single rooms; Kamala and I made a pact to stay together, and I immediately turned in my room key. Guess who else joined us? The men who were supposed to be our saviors? Yes. We ended up packing five people into one room, including John, Kush, Patrick, Kamala and myself. I woke up at 3:00 AM to Kush the Terminator on a killing spree. He was killing the midnight invasion of beetles with a smack of his sandal. Like I said earlier, it was a hysterical disaster, and none of us got quality sleep that night. Both John and Kush slept on chairs, and John made a makeshift blanket out of his paper Levi's bag. I slept on the bed with my airplane pillow, blanket and eye mask; thank God I kept them for that long! You may wonder why I was using an eye mask? It was because we slept with all of the lights on in hopes that the creatures would stay in hibernation--wishful thinking! However, staying at Kengeri campus was an eye-opening experience, and in the realm of things, I am glad that we were scheduled to spend the night there. It gave us a taste for what life at an Indian University is like in the hostels and again, made me appreciate the fortunes we are blessed with back home in America.

ITC Hotels: Responsible Luxury

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      ITC Hotel is a premier company of India and has 100 hotels in more than 90 countries. It is the world's largest green hotel chain. "Namaste" is the company's logo. It promises luxury without compromising sustainability. The Harvard Business Review ranked ITC Hotel's CEO as number seven. Since 90% of its customers are business travelers, ITC Hotel markets primarily through corporate print media. As a customer at ITC Hotel, you are able to splurge due to sustainable initiatives such as every drop of water being recycled and the use of windmills. Important to note and realized as a competitive advantage for ITC Hotel, luxury and sustainability generally do not go hand in hand. Every hotel built is indigenous to that location. Further, each suite is decorated based on various elements of nature, and each floor of the hotel has a particular theme. The theme of the grand presidential suite is centered around the peacock, India's national bird. ITC Hotel had a 'triple bottom line' philosophy; this philosophy has three aspects: economic, environmental stewardship and social responsibility. I found it interesting that ITC Hotel considers itself to be in the business of selling sleep. Extensive research has been done and the rooms are designed around the findings. The noise level that can be heard in any one room is reduced to 35 decibels, every room is equipped with blackout curtains, the AC senses the number of people in the room and adjusts accordingly and stress oils are used. The service design is based on the warmth of service, cuisine, sleep and wellness. Moreover, ITC Hotel has a platinum rating (the highest rating) through LEED by the U.S. Green Building Council. The company produces almost zero solid waste, uses 18 - 29% less energy than other hotels on average, has a solar thermal system and uses non-ozone depleting gases. It is noteworthy that ITC in Sonar, Kolkata is the first hotel in the world to earn carbon credits. The list of sustainable initiative is endless. Hillary Clinton once said that ITC Hotel may not be the Taj Mahal, but it is "a monument to the future."

Initial Impressions

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Before arriving, my impressions of India were formed around what others had spoken of and the few pictures I had seen from the group's experience in India last year at Holly's house for our pre-departure, 'traditional Indian cuisine' dinner. On a side note, I must say that the homemade macaroni and cheese was delicious! These pre-departure impressions were that it was going to be brutally hot, poverty-stricken and dirty. However, although each of these impressions hold truth in them, I came to realize that they were rather generalized, and one should be careful to make generalizations regarding India since it is highly diverse. I did not know either the extent to which poverty existed nor what 'dirty' truly meant for India until visiting the country for myself.

One of my first impressions of India pertained to Indian cuisine and occurred on our flight from Amsterdam to New Delhi when we were served a vegetarian meal. First off, the complimentary airplane meals are never very delectable to begin with! Not being a vegetarian, it is needless to say that I did not finish the meal let alone barely touch it. What struck me as most interesting about the meal was the pinkish colored 'goo' that looked like cottage cheese. Ew! However, the waffle syrup cookies were quite delicious, and it happened to be the only thing I ate. After that initial meal, I will admit that I was a bit nervous about how I was going to fill my belly for the next two weeks.

            Upon arriving in India, I was surprised to see stray dogs wandering around right outside of the airport. It was a rather unsettling sight to me since in America, dogs are considered house pets. While waiting for the bus, I also found it interesting that there were many natives lying outside of the airport on the grassy lawn. At first, I thought they were waiting for someone's arrival. We had arrived in New Delhi at approximately 1:30 AM, and no one seemed to be moving any too quickly. It soon dawned on me that they were probably homeless and were setting up camp for the evening, having no intentions of leaving. This was only the first encounter of seeing homeless on the streets in India. On the drive to our hotel, I saw individuals literally sleeping on the curbside of busy streets. They were lying either directly on the cement or dirt or on a handmade cot. From what I could see, the cots were made from sticks and some sort of twine or wire. Either way, they looked very uncomfortable, and it marked the first time I experienced a heavy heart in India. The various trucks that passed us along the way reminded me of the RV in the show The Wild Thornberrys that used to air on Nickelodeon when I was a child. Various other observations included using the keycard to turn on the lights, women riding 'sidesaddle' on motorcycles, random garbage piles along the roadside, a very dirty and dusty environment, constant honking and many Indians walking around barefoot. My final, initial impression of India was the kindness with which we were greeted. As soon as our group arrived at the hotel, we were served lime water, greeted with a welcoming "Namaste" and presented with a beautiful necklace made of fresh flowers. Let the journey begin!

McDonald's Adaptations to the Indian Market

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It was interesting to see how the icon of fast food in America, McDonald's, had adapted to the Indian market--first unsuccessfully and then successfully. Its setback was marked by the 'french fry disaster' in India when McDonald's was sued by Hindus and other religious vegetarians for serving french fries that had been cooked in oil containing beef byproducts (i.e. beef fat). The Hindu religion believes the cow to be sacred. This caused a ruckus and required a rebuilding of trust in the community. McDonald's made a public apology, settled the lawsuit and now uses vegetable oil for cooking. In addition, the french fries are fried in a different vat from that of fish and chicken, etc.

          While abroad, I have noticed that McDonald's has made specific changes to their menu in order to adapt to the Indian market. First, all beef products are removed from the menu entirely and are replaced by items such as the Chicken McGrill, Masala Grill Veg or Chicken, Egg or McAloo Wrap with Chipotle Sauce, McVeggie, Veg Pizza McPuff, Chicken Maharaja Mac, McPaneer etc. It also caters to the vast population of vegetarians in India by offering various menu options. Additionally, McDonald's in India has McSpicy Meals to cater to the palette of Indians since they tend to be more accustomed to the spices in traditional Indian cuisine. McDonald's also serves breakfast in India but offers items such as the Veg McMuffin to serve the target customers' preferences. As far as deserts go, McDonald's in India has a Brownie Sundae, McFloats, Strawberry or Hot Fudge Soft Serve, a Butterscotch McSwirl, etc. The Brownie Sundae is absolutely delicious, and I recommend that American restaurants carry it as well. It is important to point out that the prices are also much cheaper in India. A soft serve ice cream cone, for example, was only 15 rupees, which is roughly $0.25. Finally, I visited one McDonald's in India that had a TV tuned into a cricket match for entertainment and the viewing pleasure of its customers. However, a few of the food items that remain the same between American and Indian McDonald's are the french fries, Chicken McNuggets, McChicken and Filet-O-Fish. The overall layout of the restaurant is also very similar besides that in India, there was a separate desert counter. All of these adaptations together have enabled McDonald's to successfully adapt to and thrive in the Indian market for fast food.

Indus Valley

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Indus Valley is different from the other company, site visits that our group will be participating in; it is a family-owned business that was established in 1983. We talked with Mony, the man who started it all, and his son and daughter after first taking a tour of the offices. We were welcomed with a warm and generous smile, and they were great hosts. Most every employee took the time to introduce themselves to us and truly seemed excited that we were visiting. This site visit was very relaxed and informal; it felt so natural. They talked to us almost as if we were friends or close acquaintances rather than subordinates, which really told a lot about the company and its initiatives. The company and its culture is vibrant, as I could tell by our interaction with Mony and his children; we were constantly laughing throughout our conversations and making jokes. 

One of the first things that Mony pointed out to us was the old and refurbished furniture throughout the office. He said that it provides a homey and less rigid feeling to the office and that it doesn't need to be perfect. Instead, what everyone needs in the office is stress relief, and this refurbished furniture provides for that. I thought this was a very neat point that Mony made, and it will forever resonate with me. It was made clear to us that Mony and his two children all work in different lines of the business since it is family-owned, yet they all work towards a common goal. Mony was full of stories, most of which were very interesting, and he explained that strong customer relationships tend to bring out the nice in people. He seems to thrive on this idea, and it has taken him far. Interestingly, Indus Valley's first customer relationship in the U.S. was in Minneapolis with Department 56! Wow--what a small world! I also found it intriguing that a bulk of their business is in candles and that Indus Valley's client base includes companies such as Hallmark. Indus Valley's main categories are home textiles, giftware, decorations, etc., and its global business product-wise is highest in gift items and gift wrap with 50%. Further, they are currently representing companies in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia, with North America being their largest market (64%). Another important point that Mony's son made was that buyers are always looking for exclusive items, and with the craftsmanship and factories, India will always remain a plausible market. Accordingly, Indus Valley's vendor base in India is divided into geographical regions based upon where the particular craftsmanship is located. Finally, the most important point that I took away from this company visit about Indus Valley itself as an intermediary is that it wants to be the eyes for customers.

Tips for Future Study Abroad Groups in India

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1)      Tip #1: Be more trusting- I came to india with the impression that many people there are shady and that it is a very dangerous place for tourists (or so I read online). While it is important to be cautious, there is no reason to not be trusting. At first I was skeptical that my belongings would be stolen somehow or that my rickshaw driver was taking me down some scary alley, when in reality, I was just being paranoid. I did not have any issues during the two weeks I stayed in India, and there was never a time where I truly felt unsafe.

2)     Tip #2: Be friendly- The people I met in India could not be friendlier. Do not be afraid to go out of your way to make new friends. It does not matter if you will never see them again, you will still learn from them in some way and get a further understanding of their culture.

3)     Tip #3: Get familiar with cockroaches and such- Maybe go out and buy yourself a pet cockroach or two so that you do not embarrass yourselves like we did. Most of us would scream and run at the sight of one (especially when they were in our rooms-we made a scene to say the least). People were definitely laughing at our pathetic behavior, so be prepared to see interesting creatures there. But all in all, cockroaches are not so bad-they are just trying to be your friend (or at least try to think that way)!

4)     Tip #4: For those of you who dislike attention, start breaking out of your shell- I can be shy at times, especially when a lot of attention is being put on me. I am also not too fond of getting my picture taken, but whether you like it or not, accept that your picture will be taken regardless. If you think you are un-photogenic, practice taking pictures so that you do not end up looking super awkward like I did! You will also be put up on stage whether it be icebreakers, charades, or dancing, which might be challenging (it was for me), but well worth it. Who cares if you look stupid? Let me just say that my group got up on stage and danced/sang to the Oompa Loompa song from Willy Wonka, and we rocked it! As long as you had fun in the process, that is all that matters. Just do not stress over silly things!

Infosys

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I was very impressed by Infosys, the 2nd largest IT firm in India. In 2012, Forbes ranked Infosys one of the world's most innovative companies. They have a great technique, which is to focus on learning since it is the only constant in the world of IT (technology will always be changing). In terms of recruiting, they look beyond those with computer skills, believing that problem-solving skills are far more important. Their competency model involves 3 major points. The first is to build the knowledge (in a classroom), then to build the skillset (by practice), and lastly to have the right fram of mind (by getting in the shoes of the customers). Infosys spends a lot of their time and money (8,000-10,000 for the first five months) on training, which coincides with their main focus on learning. Infosys built a building for education that set a world record that can hold 12,000 students at one time and has 8,000 rooms. They do not just train their employees, they also open up spots for qualified students that are interested. Infosys believes that this is their way of giving back to society since it really has no benefit to the company. Going above and beyond, Infosys also volunteered to support Detroit, Michigan in 2002-2003, where they trained students without proper education, all free of cost. They ended up recruiting 9 people from that group.

After learning about the company, we were given a tour of the gorgeous campus. I thought I was in Southern California for a second. There were beautiful flowers and trees everywhere. The library looked really peaceful with the natural sunlight shining down through the middle area. There were tennis courts, basketball courts, badminton courts, you name it. Each seat in the lecture rooms had its own computer. There was a relaxing pool on the rooftop, next to a huge workout facility. There were even bikes stacked in areas for students that ventured off campus.

Between their unique focus and their beautiful campus, who wouldn't want to be a part of Infosys! I was ready to move in right then and there, that's for sure. 

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Tourist in India: Hard Life

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Being a tourist in India was generally low-stress but I had a lot of help: tour guides, tour bus, nice hotels, and a group of people. What was challenging and new to me as a tourist included the dangerous traffic, persistent street hawkers and extreme crowdedness.


Because of the wild west of traffic, I felt a lot of uncertainty as a pedestrian and when I rode in the open-air auto rickshaws. One full inch of clearance is all a driver or motorcyclist in India needs for them to try to ride past you. Being a pedestrian near the streets is a series of near misses and close calls. Being a passenger in an auto rickshaw is a series of high speed near misses and close calls. There is little to no respect for certain traffic rules. As a tourist new to India, be warned about the streets, but maybe take comfort in the fact that I am pretty sure we didn't hit anything the whole trip!


The street hawkers are overwhelming and might be hard to turn down for the average tourist. The begging children are this way too. The hawkers actually have pretty cool stuff, like fake Ray-Bans. They will come very close to you, put their wares in front of you and even follow you for maybe even a minute. It might feel disrespectful to ignore them and my instinct is to acknowledge them, but acknowledging them will multiply their efforts to sell you something. I only bought one thing from a hawker which happened in Agra when we were looking at the Taj Mahal across the river at night. I bought a set of post cards from a boy who finally got me when he said "please." He asked for 200 rupees and I only had 100 which he happily took. He kissed the bill after I gave it to him.


Being a new tourist to India includes these challenges which might sound unpleasant, but it just increases the value of the experience.

McDonald's/KFC in India

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Throughout our time in India, we went to several different McDonald's and KFC's. The first thing I noticed was how similar it seemed to be from fast food in the United States, which naturally brought a smile to my face. To be honest, I thought both places looked nicer and more modern in India than they do in the United States. McDonald's had cool decorations on the walls and cricket was playing on the television. KFC had options between chairs, stools, or booths to sit at, along with a spacey upstairs. When I go to KFC at home, I always end up sitting at a sticky booth, with no other option. I also found the service to be a lot better in India. At McDonald's, employees were walking around clearing our trays and cleaning up the place. In the United States, very rarely do I see employees cleaning up and I have never had my tray cleared for me. At KFC, I was amazed when they had my food delivered before I had even finished paying for it. They have a delivery service at McDonald's there which is definitely not needed here in the United States since most of us have cars and should be able to make the trip. In terms of the menu, both restaurants tweaked the food options a bit. The most obvious change is how they marketed the vegetables. In KFC, there was a sign showing the Paneer Zinger, saying, "So veg, so good." This advertisement would probably not do so well in the United States considering we go to fast food places to make poor, unhealthy decisions (for the most part). KFC in India also has "Rice Bowlz," which include rice, gravy, and your choice of either chicken or veg strips (whatever that is). The Rice Bowlz replaced the United States' "Famous Bowl," my favorite dish, made of corn, chicken, cheese, and mashed potatoes. Then there was the tweak of spiciness. I ordered the Chicken McNuggets and fries at McDonald's which tasted exactly the same as the United States, but they made sure to make a section in the menu called the "spicy range," which listed all the spicy foods. On the other hand, at KFC, I also ordered some chicken and fries but found that they actually added a little spice into both food items. KFC also had a special spicy sauce that I absolutely loved/wish I could bring back to the United States. Lastly, I noticed that there were more dessert options in India-perhaps because it is so hot there. I definitely appreciated some nice, cold ice cream over there!

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Janakiramnagar Community

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One of my favorite places we visited is the Janakiramnagar Community, an urban slum in Bangalore. Once we arrived, I could not take my eyes off all the trash left on the ground, causing flies to swarm around everywhere. We asked what happens during monsoon season, and someone replied that all the garbage floats over to where the people are living and there is not much that they can do to prevent it. I really wish we had time to clean up the place a little or help in some way, but our schedule was quite packed. We were also informed that alcoholism is the number one problem there, along with hoe poorly women are treated, which immediately reminded me of The Beautiful Forevers. It was crazy to actually see ohw they live in the slums after reading a whole book about it. I noticed a lot of adorable puppies and kittens hiding, which I had not seen in any other area of India. It also warmed my heart to see how happy and excited the children were to see us walk by. They could not have been friendlier towards us. I loved learning about how Christ University is helping out their community, whether it be educating the children, the self-help groups for women, or skill training (among many more programs). I read all of the posters in the classroom. It was interesting to read that one of their rules was that they could only speak English. We would never think to put that as a rule in the United States, yet with all the different languages in India, I can see why it is necessary. I also enjoyed listening about how the women made those beautiful bags, cases, etc. out of garbage. You could just see the passion in their faces and how proud they were of their artwork (as they should be)! On the way out of the slum, I watched the kids play games and communicate with one another. They seemed to be having a blast, regardless if they had clothes to play in or not. It reminded me of how cold we are in the United States, mostly because of all the electronics we have. We are too busy on our phones or watching television these days to really connect with people around us. This experience was really eye-opening for me and made me start to appreciate things a lot more. I am done complaining about my sister getting the new IPhone when I did not. Many others have a much more difficult lifestyle than we do, yet the people living in that slum still seemed very content with life and I truly look up to them for that.

Knowledge Gained while Riding the Bus Part 2

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The other time on the bus that really caught my attention was when we had finally arrived in Mysore after a four hour bus ride. Joseph knew all of the details about his beloved city and it was nice to know some information before we started touring the place. Mysore has about 80,000 residents and is a relatively wealthy area. It used to be the capital of the state before independence. Mysore holds many private hospitals and its university is one of the best in India. It is also one of the cleanest and well organized cities in India which I was clearly able to see. Mysore, known as "the city of palaces," had 25 kings rule the dynasty (all from the same family) and currently has seven beautiful palaces. Mysore is also known as "the city of silks" along with "pension of paradise," because people love to retire there for Mysore's beautiful culture, weather, and tradition. We drove by a lovely Roman Catholic Church that happens to be one of the tallest churches in Asia. I also noticed that most of the buildings in Mysore have colonial structures. The most interesting fact to me was that the town is named after a demon who somehow turned himself into a human. People actually used to call Mysore a "demons town" because supposedly demons were living there and disturbed the guards and humanity. As a result, Mysore hosts a huge 10 day festival, which represents 9 nights of struggle to destroy the demon. The 10th day becomes a carnival that involves more than 30 elephants, camels, music, the army, and much more (takes up 4 kilometers), which is incredible to me. I would love to experience something like that!

Now I realize that I could easily research the cities of Delhi and Mysore online, but to me, information is much more authentic/valuable coming from people that have lived there and experienced it their whole lives (rather than finding something on the internet that may be written by a journalist who only visited India for a week or so). Plus we were able to look outside of the bus and see many of the things that they were talking about, giving us a better understanding of everything. Big thanks to Sushil and Joseph!

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Knowledge Gained while Riding the Bus

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While the long bus rides were mostly used as time to catch up on sleep, there were a few times in particular where I was really interested in what our tour guides were saying and put sleep aside. I wanted to remember these tad bits of information, so I figured I would write them down in a blog. The first instance was when Sushil was giving us some background information on India, as well as some specifics on Delhi. He first started off by explaining the purpose of the red line and dot. A red line on a woman's scalp means that she is married, whereas a red dot on a woman's forehead is a sign of beauty (though sometimes the dot is green or another color to match their outfits). The dot is not limited to women, as some guys will wear one to show that they have been to temple. I also learned that hospitals are free, but they take so long to get to each patient that those that are fortunate enough end up paying for private hospitals. Also, no prescription is necessary in India, so any medication is available over the counter. We also drove past a special tree that has been known to cure diseases. Some people even brush their teeth with the bark to reduce the bacteria that causes plaque. Another cool fact is that India is the biggest producer of movies in the world. As we drove past the Indian parliament (which was gorgeous), Sushil said that the president's house is a whopping 1.6 miles long! On the creepier side, he pointed out all different kinds of decorated platforms on top of cars which turned out to be a platform to carry dead bodies. I was surprised to see how prepared they were for someone to die. Lastly, someone asked why so many people were gathering in one area, and Sushil said that free food is often handed out to the public. I thought this reflected the collectivist culture, as they are somewhat looking after each other and being thoughtful of others.

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Initial Impressions of India

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As soon as I stepped foot outside of the Delhi airport, it felt as if we were on another planet. I have been to France, England, The Bahamas, and more, yet I have never felt so out of place than when we arrived in India. The first thing I noticed were all the people laying out on the grass outside of the airport. I was not sure whether they were waiting for a bus or just relaxing. I soon realized, on the way to our hotel, that it is quite common to sleep anywhere that there is enough space, as I saw countless people sleeping in between the street and sidewalk, alongside stray dogs. I was not expecting to see that many stray dogs, and was actually quite nervous about it at first, but to my (pleasant) surprise, they kept calm and were not there to bother anyone. As I was dragging my suitcase onto the bus, some guy came up and took it from me. I repeatedly told him I could carry it, but he would not let go until it was brought into the pile with everyone else's luggage. Right then and there, I realized my quiet/nervous voice does not stand a chance against persistent strangers and that I must be more firm otherwise I will end up being broke by the end of the trip. The following day, I was in awe with how crowded Delhi is and how chaotic the roads have become. Sushil mentioned that there is almost 10 million people living in Delhi and it sure shows. There is constant honking that I highly doubt I could ever get used to and I noticed that stoplights have countdowns (even from 130 seconds). I am guessing that this prevents impatient drivers from running red lights because at least this way they know when they can go, rather than waiting there with an unknown time frame. The scenery of all the beautiful trees hovering over the streets made the bus rides a lot more bearable. I found it to be quite entertaining how intrigued people from India were with our tourist group, especially the blondes and Jackson. There was a lot of staring and picture taking going on. Lastly, I was extremely surprised with how much I have liked the food so far. As everyone knows, I am a ridiculously picky eater and I thought I was about to be on a strictly rice and bread diet for two weeks. It turns out that the meat has been delicious and I love the spicy kick to everything.

Even though we have been preparing for India for weeks and I have been warned about pretty much everything that I have just mentioned, it still did not feel real until I experienced it myself. Now I really know what Holly was saying when she was trying to explain the traffic situation or the persistence of people trying to persuade you to buy stuff. I feel like I have already learned/experienced so much thus far and its only been about a day. I cannot wait to see what else is in store these next two weeks!

A Guest is a God in India

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   India overwhelmed me in the hospitality it offered me and our group. I'm not sure flabbergasted is the right emotion, but I am something close to flabbergasted in reaction to the welcoming nature and level of hospitality I experienced on our trip.

   It's worth repeating what we learned a few times in India which is the belief in Hinduism that to some extent "the guest is God." I also learned that this is an official tagline for a campaign by India's Ministry of Tourism. I don't know if our Indian hosts actually ever think of this idea explicitly but they seem to at least embody it implicitly.

   Our group's warm welcome extended across all of our company site visits. I remember being welcomed with smiles and bottled water at all of them, but that's only the baseline. They offered gifts, tours and their time and effort. It can't be a coincidence that we visited a long string of welcoming places. Instead, I think the attitude is embedded in Indian culture. The person who exhibited this attitude most might be Mony. Mony told us how he always finds something to like in someone, and that he makes friends of even the most seemingly difficult people. I talked with him a bit afterwards and asked him more about that attitude. He told me another anecdote. His desire and ability to make welcoming connections with people is something close to maniacal.

   The single strongest impression I had on the trip was the hospitality from Christ University. Smiles, flowers, gifts, presentations, shows, tours, dinners. They really laid it on and I'll never forget it. My favorite meal was the catered lunch at Christ University where I got to know Akash and Shivani and we bonded over American television and movies.

   What I just described is just a sample of the hospitality and welcome I felt in India.

Environmental Responsibility

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It felt like every company visit and lecture touched on environmental responsibility. At Christ University, they showed us how the recycle all of the campus's waste, and ITC Hotels actually builds its brand off of sustainability.

I am actually not surprised at all by the level of environmental consciousness. The first day in Delhi I remember learning all about how they feed certain animals such as monkeys and birds on certain days. The hold nature very sacred, and this carries over into their business practices. It isn't just socially wrong to pollute the environment in India. It is morally wrong. In the United States, being environmentally conscious is something I think we are just now learning. In India, their customs have been preaching it for millennia.

Don't get me wrong though, I saw all the trash. It clogged street drains and covered the ground of the slums. Trash in the streets is not sign of being environmentally irresponsible. There should be no question, food and shelter comes first. Environmental responsibility should not be an excuse to let people starve. For that reason, I understand the trash is a small issue compared to other blights in the city.

In short, I think India, when it has solved it's more pressing issues, will be able to effectively solve environmental issues much faster than we have in the US.

It seemed every person I talked to about the growth of Bangalore lamented the fact that it caused the destruction of thousands of trees. They cared about the economic benefits the growth had provided, but it never seemed to be the main focus.

Traffic

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I could not be happier to leave India's traffic. After hearing employees at SAP actually commute two hours to work one way I was shocked. Even though I had done my research, it didn't really sink in how arduous commuting in India is today. Employees spend almost no time. I am actually surprised companies do not provide closer housing to work for employees. It seems it would be beneficial to both the employer and the employees.

Speaking to the top executive at Adobe, he said that if I came here six years ago, I could play soccer in the street in from of St. Marks Hotel. The street would have had no traffic. I couldn't believe it. How did traffic get so crazy, so fast? The answer was growth in population and business. The population of Bangalore has doubled since 2000, and Bangalore was known as the "Silicon Valley" of India due to the influx of IT jobs.

With all the autorickshaws, motorcycles, mopeds, cars, and trucks on the road, I am actually surprised I didn't see more accidents. Everyone drove very closely together, and roads marked for two lanes often had four or five vehicles lined up next to each other. It looked like pure chaos, but given the circumstances, it does work. The only way to solve this problem is major infrastructure investment, and that is underway with the building of Bangalore's metro line.

I road in an autorickshaw twice, and they were very fun. It was much faster than taking a bus because the driver was able to weave in between the larger cars. It was a bit scary however pulling alongside a bus and noticing that my head was barely above the bumper. I could never use one for a daily commute in such a packed city. I am very excited to see how traffic changes over the next decade as much needed infrastructure investments are made.

The Hotels

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From the Hans Hotel to St Mark's Hotel, I was thoroughly impressed by the cleanliness of the rooms and the attitude of the hotel staff. When I first arrived at Hans Hotel, I did not want to let go of my luggage. It had made it to India, and I didn't want to lose it now. By the time we were at St Mark's, I gladly let them take my luggage to my room. If I made one concession of personal space, it was letting someone I don't know handle my luggage in a hotel.

As soon as I entered a hotel room, I felt like I was back in the US. It didn't feel foreign at all. The outlets even had built in adapters for American electrical plugs. I could travel anywhere in the world as long as I had a place like this to stay at night.

The hotels served as a good reminder that there is a global community that lives in luxury wherever they are. The hotels may not have seemed extraordinary to us, but compared to other parts of India, they were palaces.

Contrasting the hotel stays with the guest housing on Christ University's campus, we see the difference. First, bugs were everywhere. I never saw a single bug in the hotels, but I killed a cockroach on Christ campus within the first ten minutes. Some rooms even had lizards, and they all had flies. Second, the air-conditioning was a luxury instead of a standard item. Everyone was given separate rooms because only one bedroom in each room had air-conditioning. It was surprising to say the least.

I am not one to complain, but I definitely enjoyed the taste of home the hotels on the trip provided.

The Taj Mahal; The 'Thaj Mahel'; The Taj

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   Visiting the Taj Mahal was one of the most memorable things for me from our trip. It is an awesome site. I'm happy that I can answer in the affirmative when people ask if I visited the Taj Mahal after I tell them I went to India. Going to the Taj Mahal is the number one tourist thing to do in India.

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   I was surprised with the high number of Indian tourists at the Taj Mahal. I probably had the naive thought like: "all Indians have been to the Taj Mahal and therefore we won't see any when we go to the Taj Mahal." I obviously didn't apply much critical thinking to this idea, and in fact, Indians were overwhelmingly the largest group of people at the sites we visited.

   The Taj Mahal was beautiful. I'm sorry I don't have anything sophisticated to say about the architecture, building material or historical significance, but I honestly really like the shape of the dome on the top. The whole structure was smaller than I expected.

   Walking toward the Taj Mahal was not beautiful. We got whiffs of some foul smells on the streets of Agra. As was a motif in my visit to India, the juxtaposition of ugly/poor against beautiful/rich abounded. The streets of Agra were ugly and the Taj Mahal beautiful.

Taj Mahal

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Finally, the Taj Mahal had been on my list of things to see for a very long time. I used to--and still do once in a while--play a video that had the Taj Mahal as one of the wonders you could build. I found it interesting that it always started a "Golden Age" in the game if you built it because from pictures it didn't seem that impressive. I was wrong.

Now, before I talk about seeing the Taj Mahal I just talk about the journey there. Taking a bus from the hotel, we arrived a few kilometers away from the Taj Mahal to transfer over to an electric bus. As we approached closer on this bus a stench arose. I can still taste it in my mouth. The smell of rotten eggs and human feces burned in my nostrils. Stepping out of the electric bus, we began walking to the entrance. Once inside the smell went away, but it will probably never be forgotten.

I never realized the Taj Mahal had a kind of outer-wall. As we walked through the entrance you could see the Taj Mahal's perfect symmetry. It was spectacular, yet it still seemed small. However, the closer I approached, the more impressive the tomb became. It was monstrous. The marble structure towered more ornate than I ever imagined. I learned that all the floral patterns that appear painted are actually inlaid semi-precious and precious stones such as rubies and lapis lazuli.

The structure is truly impressive, but like many of the ornate churches in Europe, it reminds me of how wasteful societies are. Building a tomb out of marble with inlaid rubies had to be incredibly expensive. I wonder how many schools could have been built instead of this structure. Better yet, how about building a sewage system. I guarantee there was a better use of wealth at the time the structure was built that would have made life better for people even today. No matter how beautiful your tomb is, if it smells like human shit outside, I'm not impressed.

Site Visit-Infosys

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After the long bus-ride to Mysore, I couldn't help but wonder if Infosys would be worth it. As soon as we entered the campus, I was shocked. I couldn't believe how impressive the buildings were. It looked like a prestigious college university. The site is barely over a decade old, but they buildings looked like they were build yesterday. It was incredibly clean and picturesque. I was somewhat disappointed to have to go listen to their presentation at this point. I just wanted to explore the campus.

The presentation room itself was nice. The dual screens were impressive, and it was obvious the room was used for virtual meetings given the setup. That being said, I had seen a more impressive teleconference room when touring Deloitte facilities in the U.S. That's not important though, at this point, it was all about content.

I know companies put a lot of focus on training and educating their employees more so than ever before. The learning curve at software and consulting companies is very steep, and intensive training is not just optimal but necessary. Infosys delivers on this front. Their focus on rigorous education is incredible.

They spoke a lot about how they value education and how they hold their employees in training to a very high standard. Truthfully, I felt it was a bit of hyperbole. A company such as Infosys is going to pull from the best and brightest. If they were truly testing their employees more than just a small percentage would fail the training. This felt more like marketing to brand themselves as the most elite, rigorous company of its kind.

Infosys is a leader. Growing from a small start-up in the 80's to one of the most innovative companies in the world is no small feat. That campus did not come cheap, and it will continue to build and maintain their reputation as a company that cares about the education of its employees.

Visit to American Business-McDonald's

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India is one of the fastest growing markets in the world, so there should be no surprise many American companies are entering the market. The most ubiquitous company in America is McDonald's. For this reason, I chose to consider what I learned about McDonald's from both entering the store in India and also talking to Indians about the company.

When India first entered the Indian market, it was seen as the place to go, but after a few months people stopped going. It was explained to me that there were two reasons for this. First, McDonald's food was not appeasing to Indians. There was a lack of vegetarian options, the food was bland, and they served beef. Second, the meals were expensive by Indian standards.

McDonald's adopted a new menu, and it was delicious. I wish I could get the vegetarian options they offered such as the McPaneer in the U.S. Also, it was inexpensive! Converted to U.S. currency many of the items cost less than a dollar. It was so inexpensive I actually purchased the largest burger they offered and supersized the meal. It still only cost me around five dollars!

The appearance of the inside was amazing. It felt like I was back in Minnesota. McDonald's did a wonderful job adopting to the Indian cuisine and maintaining its food quality. The French fries really tasted like McDonald's fries even though I'm on the other side of the world.

The last thing I would mention is that they have done a great job gaining the acceptance of Indians. Most of the people in the store were Indians. This was not true of another American restaurant I visited: TGI Fridays. TGI Fridays was mostly Americans and tourists. They were acting more as an outpost for foreigners than actually a pioneer into a new market.

Initial Impressions

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I didn't hold too many preconceptions about India with regards to the environment. Truthfully, I had no idea what to expect. Arriving at the airport in the dead of night, I was not surprised at all by the heat. What was surprising to me was the number of homeless people just sleeping next to the airport. Also, the wild dogs were much more common than I expected. They were everywhere!

Taking the bus to the hotel, I was surprised by how empty the streets were at night. I thought they would be much more crowded given all the different stories I've heard about India's traffic.

The next day was full of sight-seeing, and it was incredible. There were so many cool structures, and I had never been in such a tropical climate. The trees were unlike any I had ever seen in person. The traffic seemed out of control, and I was having a difficult time remembering to look for people driving on the left-side instead of the right.

My nerves about the food however were quickly calmed. It was delicious! The breakfast at the hotel had a huge range of foods that tasted great. I was a little worried I wouldn't find enough food I liked, but the complete opposite is true. I think I ate way too much at the first sit-down restaurant. I am still worried about how my body will react to the huge change in diet however.

The final initial impression of India was how populated and packed cities such as Delhi are. The train we took to a temple during rush hour was so packed you could barely move. After the first full day of activities, I could not be more excited to fall asleep and rest up for the rest of this adventure.