Off Season Tourist - India Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta
Two weeks in India, 2003 Notes from the Off Season Tourist
OH (Old Hostel) hallways
IIMC Community and Culture
Coming of age in Joka

I wrote the below essay at request from the editor of IIMC's online newsletter. I had the honor of being the first exchange student to ever be a guest columnist. It was written after I'd been at IIMC only a few weeks, and over the next months my positive impressions continued to grow and my love for the campus and the people increased.

Many people have asked me how I find the IIMC campus, the classes, but most importantly, everyone wants to know how I am dealing with the food and the humidity! Just to set the record straight with everyone, no, the spice doesn't bother me. I love spicy food and eat a fair bit of Indian food in New York. As for quality, I've studied in many universities around the world and I can tell you that cafeteria food is always the same quality whether you're in Joka, India; Montpellier, France; Sevilla, Spain; or New York City, USA. I am happy to say that I've only had to resort to going for pizza once in India, and that was because we were returning to campus from the Sports Adventure weekend after the mess hall had closed.

The humidity, however, is just plain evil. It rusts staples, makes paper limp, turns my vitamins black, and, worst of all, makes my face break out more than it did when I was a teenager! However, being an element out of my control, I accept it as part of the experience and try not to dwell on it. Incidentally, the plague of bugs inside our room every night also falls into the category of "Just deal with it, Julie!"

Food, sweat, and mosquitos aside, I have been intrigued by one particular characteristic rampant throughout the campus; the palpable sense of community among the IIMC students, which is both impressive and enviable.

Never in my university experiences have I been lucky enough to be exposed to such a natural sense of community among students. In my observations, I have seen a few reasons for this closeness: the isolated campus at Jokaland (with 5-star hostel accommodations), technology - the online blueboard postings (even with the ranting) and the "send" instant messaging software - , and the students' sense of shared purpose. I'm sure there are other factors, but having only been here a month, this is what I have so far observed.

The isolated campus lends naturally to this feeling of community. Jokaland and its lakes are for me both a blessing and a curse. Living in New York City, I'm used to being very mobile, hopping the subway at a moment's notice. I'm still not used to risking my life in a Calcutta-bound taxi, skidding on water-soaked roads and playing chicken with oncoming impatient buses or cows that refuse to move out of the road. On the other hand, the blessing is that being so isolated I too have begun to feel a part of the IIMC community. Although my husband Marcus and I were given the option of living off campus, in a less hostel-like arrangement, we decided to stay on campus because learning about the Indian culture by being with the people is as much of a priority for me as going to class! Chats during dinner, between classes, or while waiting for someone in the foyer, have allowed me to get to know several of the students a little bit better. There's so much I can learn from all of them and I look forward to more stimulating conversations! The students have everything they need on campus, including 21st century classrooms with computer equipment and internet access.
Screen shot of the BB

The online blueboards. How could anyone function on this campus without being hooked into the IIMC extranet? My university in New York utilizes a tool similar to CourseWeb, but the "send" chat function and bb postings are a new experience for me on the university level. The postings on the bb have allowed me to be a silent observer of many academic and cultural issues/happenings on campus. For me, it's been an invaluable cultural tool, making me feel a bit like Margaret Mead. It's been interesting watching conflicts arise and be summarily diffused online. There are many natural leaders among the students who I hope will end up using their negotiating skills for more than just Investment Banking (although there's nothing wrong with that!). Posting my thoughts and announcements on the bb has also helped me feel a little bit more like part of the community.

The third factor I've observed is a sense of shared purpose among the students. From conversations I've had with some of them, I understand that most are in similar situations: 1st goal is to get the MBA from IIMC; 2nd goal is to get a placement (any placement) after graduation; 3rd goal is to take the work experience from the first placement and parlay it into a good job that they really want. These shared goals unite the students, binding them with a common thread. This thread will keep many of them in contact with each other once they've graduated. The graduates will find out whose cousin works for which Fortune 500 company, who's going to the UK to work, and who ended up at P&G thanks to the great internship they had after their 1st year. This is where my attempted integration into IIMC culture hits a snag. As I've been in the work force for 10 years and currently have a job at Young & Rubicam in New York, I do not share these common goals. However, I do hope to remain part of IIMC's global network once I've gone and will always enjoy helping out other IIMCers whenever I can. New York's only 9000 miles away, so I expect many of the students to come and visit!
Being pampered at a Nepalese Salon

This summer, I am one of only two exhange students on campus. Many people have said to me, "It's a shame you're not here in the Fall when there will be so many other international students." I disagree wholeheartedly. Having been an exchange student on other occasions, I understand and have succumbed to the tendency to hang out with the other exchange students, as it is often times easier than integrating with the natives. If I were here with 35 other exchange students, how many opportunities would I have to converse with the Indian students regarding gender issues or the workforce situation or Hinduism? Would I be able to learn Hindi from the students and be invited to go shopping for salwar kameez or to go to a Nepalese Salon for a facial? Maybe, but I think not. This was the right time for me to come, even with the humidity, bugs and monsoon rains!

I've also been asked if I would want to come back to India - would I go through this again? My response: In a heartbeat. How could I not? The IIMCers have been so kind, generous, friendly, and funny! Many have fantastic senses of humor (although many seem to have trouble understanding MY off-beat sense of humor!). These students have a lot to offer India and the world, and I hope to see many of them in New York or wherever else we all end up!

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