Off Season Tourist - India Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta
Two weeks in India, 2003 Notes from the Off Season Tourist
You have questions?
Hopefully I'll have the answers!

On this page I'd like to include a type of FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions). These are some of the questions I had before going to IIMC, and I can imagine other potential students having similar questions. The answers are a combination of three sources.

1) A former STEP exchange student from Brazil that I contacted through the Internet - Newton Campos

2) The STEP coordinator assigned to me - Munish Saini

3) My own observations from my three months at IIMC

I've paraphrased and rewritten some of their answers to expand on the subjects. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank both Munish and Newton for their helpful answers. Three months in India is a difficult experience to prepare for and they both were very helpful. Newton's observations in particular helped me prepare mentally for the experience. I hope these answers and the IIMC pages in generally help you as his answers helped me. Newton, thanks again for all your help!

I found Newton's name on the IIMC website somewhere… he had a web page with pictures from his IIMC experience, so I thought he'd be a good person to go to for a reality check! Newton's response when I first reached out to him with questions was really positive.

Newton wrote: "It would be a great pleasure for me to help you with your preparations for this experience. I don't know if you already had the opportunity to go to this part of the world but if you didn't you definitely will see different things! :-) Studying in the IIM Calcutta was one of the most weird/lovely/strange/amazing/funny things I did in my life. Don't worry, I put all those words together because that's how you feel once you step out of the airplane in Calcutta: You simply loose a bit your sense of what is wrong or right, ugly or beautiful, specially if you get in touch with their religion." Everything Newton said was so true. He definitely helped me prepare for what I would experience in India and I can't agree more with the weird/lovely/strange/amazing/funny description!

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Realistic Answers from Newton

Q: Is the IIMC exchange program structured well?

A: (Newton) Yes. Overall, the school is very organized and they share the responsibilities among the students. There are students responsible for the Intranet, student responsible for the toilets, students responsible for the food. You will have to see the students responsible for the exchange students.

(Julie) As I was one of only two exchange students when I was at IIMC in Term IV, I found that I was not extended a lot of the courtesies that IIMC gave to the exchange students from Term V. However, there were also benefits for being one of two students, so they probably balanced themselves out. I had a personal meeting with R.C., the director of the academic program, whereas if I were one of 15 students, I probably would have met with him together with the other students. However, I never received a proper orientation, a sore subject for me and one that I tended to complain about a bit. I found out things in the last month I was there that I really should have been told about in my first few weeks.

Q: What are the living conditions like?

A: (Newton) All the Indian Students live in one of three dormitories, called hostels. Married students live in Family Housing.

(Julie): The exchange students may live in either the hostels or the Family Housing, depending on the quantity of students in a given semester. Julie note: Marcus and I lived in a "guest room" in OH (Old Hostel). We were charged 100 rupees a night for this regular dorm room that had two beds instead of one. This left NO room to move around. It was a bit difficult until Munish recommended that we request an additional room. There was an empty room across the hallway, which we were given at no additional fee. I put my books in it and used it to study when I needed to.

The best thing about the guest room, though, was the attached bathroom. We had our own shower, toilet and sink. I was even able to tape up the window in the bathroom to keep out the mosquitoes. Newton had warned me that you could often find "visitors" in the toilets. He wrote, "The toilets are awful and you will find cockroaches, spiders, mosquitoes, frogs and lizards inside. However, you tend to get used to the visitors with time." He also recommended that I take a pair of sandals for wearing in the shower and a pair of good towels because you will find out each towel takes 3 days to get dry (the weather is very humid). I actually bought a special traveler's towel. It's thin and super absorbent, so it dries very quickly.

Q: How were the classes? Difficult? Did you learn a lot?

A: (Newton) Like any other school, we had very good professors and some pretty bad. At the beginning you will get confused because you will think it's impossible to understand their English, but that's natural, as they have a very strong Indian accent. Much stronger than Apu Nahasapeemapetilon's (Apu from the Simpsons), Kwik-E-Mart Shop.

I enjoyed a lot some classes and learnt a lot in some classes you will only find over there. Try to take some classes in the Human Values Center. I took "Management for the 21st century from Great Indian Traditions" there and I learnt a lot. Another class I liked a lot was "Management of yourself" where the main subject to be studied is you (!). I learnt a lot about myself in this class.

(Julie) These are Newton's observations about classes. I have written a very thorough account of my classroom observations and experiences, which can be found on my Academic Life page.

Q: How far is the campus from Calcutta?

A: (Newton) It's pretty close, about 9km, but 9km in India in much much much more than 9km in any other place in the world. To get to town you will first have to walk outside the campus gate, which can take up to 15 minutes, depending on where you were in campus. Then you will have to find a cab.

(Julie) Sometimes it's difficult to find cabs, but other times there are cabs lined up just to the left of the gate. The drivers will fight over who gets to take you to town. Regardless of what they say, DO NOT agree to negotiate a price. Tell them they have to run the meter and that you will pay the meter rate. They will think that they can charge you a higher price because you are a foreigner. Ask an Indian student about the meter rate, as I'm sure it will have changed from when I was there. Regardless of what the taxi driver says, though, only pay what the meter rate comes out to, plus a small tip if you feel like it. They may try to double the rate or ask for 50 or 100 rupees too much. The best way to not get cheated is to educate yourself as to the current meter rate.

Q: How often did you go to town?

A: (Newton) About 2 days per week. I felt many times depressed living only inside the campus the whole time and the other students felt the same. So many times we use to go to "Cal" (the way they call Calcutta) just to see different things and forget about the campus for some hours.

(Julie) Marcus and I would also go to the Tollygunge Club to "get away" from it all. I talk about Tollygunge on the "Typical Day" page .

Q: Is everything really as cheap as everyone says?

A: (Newton) Yes, everything is very very cheap, but at the same time you sacrifice quality. For example, every 10 bottles of coke you buy, 2 come without gas. I got a pack of ruffles (snacks) once and I found a hair inside (argh!!!). But you will have to change your concept of cleanliness living over there. Everything is dirty. Get used to it.

Q: Can I buy nice cotton clothes there? Will I look silly as a foreigner walking around in Indian clothing?

A: (Newton) No for both questions. You will see that Indian and Calcutta are a complete mess. You can buy nice things but you will see in India everything is difficult. Even buying a pair of socks takes one day. I would recommend you to buy some silk curta pijamas. You can wear it over there without any problem. They you enjoy seeing a foreigner with their clothes. I recommend you to buy a pair of very nice sandals because it's the only things you will use over there (nobody uses shoes).

(Julie) I actually ended up buying about a dozen sets of Indian clothes as well as two saris. The Indian clothes were comfortable and I still wear them here in the United States. The suits are called Salwar Kameez and you can buy them already stitched or buy unstitched material that you then take to a tailor. A friend took me to Mina, a tailor shop outside Joka, when the tailor would stitch my suits for 70 rupees each!

Q: Do you think I should learn any Bengali or Hindi before I go?

A: (Newton) Yes. Its gonna be very useful specially because the affirmation that everybody in India speaks English its a huge lie. Only the most educated people speak and you will have some problems when taking a cab or buying something if you don't speak Bengali or Hindi. During our year we said to the dean that they should teach us Hindi during that time in the campus. I don't know if they took this idea further.

(Julie) IIMC still has no Hindi or Bengali language course for the international students. With all the Indians wanting to learn French, Spanish and German, it makes sense that some of the exchange students would want to learn Hindi. Surely there's someone there who could teach a course next year for the students… I learned bit by bit from friends but never had professional lessons. I still use various words from time to time with my Indian friends and coworkers here in New York. I would love to keep up with learning Hindi, but it really is not necessary at this point in my life. If I ever went back to India to work, I would make the effort, but right now I just have so much else going on that I just don't have time.

Q: I'm thinking of buying a laptop. Can you confirm that there's Internet access in each dorm? If so, do you have to pay extra for it? Do you have to share a room or are they singles?

A: (Newton) It's great if you can bring your laptop with you. Yes, all the rooms have Internet connection although sometimes the connection fails or get pretty slow. The room is individual but don't expect to room to be a very pleasant place. The room is small and hot. During the first weeks you will think you arrived in hell because the weather is extremely hot and humid. You wont stop sweating the whole day and the fan on the room's roof wont help too much. What I saw is that you're going during the worst moment (summer time). The humidity will reach 90 something during that time. It's horrible but its part of the adventure.

(Julie) I did take a laptop and highly recommend it for everyone. The connection was actually not that bad. The rooms were very small and the weather was hot and humid. But it's just a matter of getting used to it - and at the beginning, taking 4 showers a day!

Newton had these final words to say: "It may look I hated to live in India but actually I had bad and good feelings there, so at the end I learnt a lot, because some people say and its true, that you learn a lot with difficulties."

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Administrative answers from Munish

Here are the answers to some more administrative questions I posed to Munish, the STEP coordinator:

Q: Is there an orientation for students?

A: (Munish) There wouldn't be any orientation before the 9th. You will be assigned a buddy who will take care of any thing you want to know(basically the transition period) when you arrive in India. If you arrive before 9th, you will find very few people. The first week of class is a shopping week where you attend classes and select courses you would like to take up. So there is some flexibility and you can plan accordingly.

(Julie) I never got a buddy. Because it was not a normal semester for exchange students (there were only two of us), the normal formalities for exchange students was not followed. I think because I was with my husband and was not a typical 22 year old leaving my home country for the first time, they felt I wouldn't need a buddy. The truth is, I found some things out in my last few weeks at IIMC that would have been helpful to know in an orientation. I have recommended to the STEP staff that they create an orientation booklet with helpful information.

Q: What is the maximum and minimum number of classes I can take? What is the recommended course load? How many hours are each course?

A: (Munish) The minimum number of courses you want to take would depend on your credit requirements at your college. Normally exchange students take up 4-5 courses (IIMC students have do a minimum of 6 courses) and can take three other non credit courses. Each course normally has 2 one hour forty five minute classes per week which makes it a total of 35 hours per course per term. Also, each course is a three-credit course.

(Julie) There were many other questions I had that were never answered by anyone in the IIMC administration. This is not entirely Munish's fault. He was doing his summer rotation when I had questions and didn't have a lot of time. In my opinion, the administration should not rely so heavily on the other students to provide necessary information to future students. But this is true of everything at IIMC - the students have a lot of autonomy, which is a double-edged sword. They have responsibility but very little guidance.

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More Preparation Info from Julie

Q: What was the weather like?

A: I was in India from late May to the end of August. Before the monsoon rains came in June, the weather was unbearable. We were sweating so much, we felt like we were melting into the ground. During monsoon season, it was better, but I think that's also partly because we just got used to the weather. Now, looking back on the experience, we don't even really remember how bad the heat was. Learning to deal with it was just part of the experience. There was airconditioning in the classrooms, computer labs and library, so we had places to go for a respite from the heat. There are ceiling fans in each room and I never had problems sleeping. I was really happy about this because I was concerned I wouldn't be able to sleep without air conditioning. The rains were lovely when they came - the relief from the heat, although temporary, was welcomed.

Q: What kind of things did I pack?

A: Marcus and I both used backpacks and packed lightly - more room in our packs to buy local goods!

Clothing:

Wanting to be respectful and not draw more attention to us than necessary, I brought clothing that covered my arms and legs. I brought two long sleeve cotton shirts (made in India!) and two pairs of loose fitting linen pants for my everyday wear. I also brought a black long skirt and black pair of pants, two tank tops (for exercise), a pair of sweat pants and a modest swimsuit.

Sundries:

It's a good idea to take lots of hand sanitizer gel, as washing your hands in the local water and then eating with your hands could expose you to bacteria your stomach won't like. We used this a lot at first, although by the end of the three months, I was even brushing my teeth with the local water.

Handiwipes are good for cleaning your face and neck from sweat.

Sunscreen

Sandals are necessary as your feet sweat like crazy

Sneakers/hiking boots

Vitamins - important to bring to make sure you get nutrients. Do NOT bring vegetable product-based vitamins, as humidity will turn them black! They rotted in the humidity. Make sure they are encapsulated or hard coated. Marcus' gel capped Excedrin migraine pills even melted together.

Bring 3-4 passport pictures for ID cards

Contact Info

Please feel free to contact me at julie@sambith.com if you have any questions about my stay at IIMC. Newton Campos, the Brazilian exchange student who helped me prepare for my trip also offered to be a contact for future students with questions. His email is newtoncampos@hotmail.com - he's a lovely person with a fantastic outlook on life, and in his own words, is "very proud to be an IIMC alumnus". He's also traveled extensively. You can check out his travels on his home page,

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