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India Trip Opens Eyes of Mount Ida Business Students

From the moment the five Mount Ida business majors stepped off the plane in India, they knew they were in a different world. One that was at once familiar and then, like none they had never experienced.

Traveling with Professor Susan Wheeler, Chair of Business Administration, the trip, to introduce the students to business in India, was part of a three-credit Global Business course. “All business students are required to take courses that expand their global awareness of some aspect of business. Through this course the students had the opportunity to experience business first-hand in the country they were studying,” says Professor Wheeler.

The five students spent nine days, traveling from the very modern to the more rural, experiencing a high-tech university, joining a group of women working on hand looms and spending time at a non-profit that supports education for all children.

“We wanted to give our students the opportunity to experience as many facets of business in India as possible, in a very short time,” says Professor Wheeler. Together they visited Ramoji Film City, an integrated film studio that is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest in the world. They spent a day at the University of Hyderabad, a 5,000-student public research university, then traveled to two hand loom factories, one with more than 300 employees and the other, much smaller, that for more than three decades has been hand-weaving according to Persian tradition.

“Along the way we learned the stories of the employees, employers and students,” Professor Wheeler says. “Contrasts between those in the entertainment industry and the entrepreneurial women churning out goods, first as a way to survive, and now a way of life, was eye-opening.”

In addition, the group visited Liljat Papad, a cooperative established by Indian women, which manufactures wafers and breads. The cooperative produces dough that Indian women take home and bake and bring back to be paid. “Many women, some for 45 years have been making money this way and have been able to afford to send their children to school or university,” Professor Wheeler adds.

One of the most memorable parts of the trip for some students was a visit to MVF, a foundation whose approach is based on a firm conviction that no child should work and that all children should be in school until 18.

Through community participation. MVF draws up specific plans to withdraw children from work and to make all arrangements to prepare children to be enrolled in full-time formal day schools. MVF tracks each child to assure they complete at least 10th grade and are not pulled back into the workforce.

“Learning about child labor and seeing these young girls broke my heart,” says Marisa Vincenzino, one of the students on the trip. “Their parents chose not to educate them, but MVF made it happen for every determined child and has educated the public to open their minds and make it a choice for parents who don’t know what an education is worth.” Touched deeply, she added,” These children are so brave, strong and independent and are motivating and inspiring. Their laughs and smiles are the most beautiful thing I’ve encountered in life. Interacting with these girls was a blessing.”

Student Sahro Hassan echoed the sentiment. “Even though going to the hand loom factory was amazing and unforgettable, my highlight of the trip was definitely visiting MVF. I met with many brave girls who are currently fighting for education and the right to be a kid. It was an emotional day.”

On a lighter note, the visit to the Ramoji Film City was much more Western. Two of the students on the trip had grown up watching the films and were familiar with the stars. One student, adorned with sunglasses kept being mistaken for an actress and readily posed for pictures. “It was a fun trip that really highlighted the fact that the Indian economy is very diverse and complex,” says Professor Wheeler.

Student Kayla DeMello says a highlight was “getting to see the most beautiful old architecture and craftsmanship, including tombs for past kings and queens and the overall atmosphere of multicultural diversity.”

Colleen McGourty was glad the course gave her the opportunity to go. “Traveling and understanding other cultures helps to break down cultural barriers and to understand one another. The business world is becoming globalized and being well-educated and well-traveled helps businesses create and keep good relationships with international partners.”

Before leaving India, the local tour Leader, who is the Resident Director of CIEE, the study-abroad program at University of Hyderabad, treated the Mount Ida class to dinner at her home. She lives in a modest two family house that felt more “western” and familiar to the students. She served traditional Indian food and attempted to teach them how to eat with their hand, pushing food into their mouths with their thumb. “It was messy, but delicious,” says Professor Wheeler.

The consensus upon return was that the trip opened eyes, and was a unique experience.