Isenberg Student Trip to India Offers Kaleidoscopic Learning Experiences


Isenberg students in India"Astounding" was a response in unison by two Isenberg School students who participated in the school's first course-related trip to India, in January. "The trip to south India offered nonstop sensory overload. It was full of contradictions and extremes-like striking economic prosperity alongside economic deprivation," observed sophomore Elizabeth Jenkins. "India always hits me as being so different from any place else," remarked fellow sophomore Rahul Garg, whose previous experience in India had been mostly outside the south. "All of those different cultures and sensations-they're like the ingredients in a curry. They create an experience that can't be defined. It's more like a puzzle."


The 12-day trip complemented the students' classroom experience in the Isenberg School course, Culture & Business-South India. The course is the latest offering in the school's International Study Options. which combines semester-long coursework with overseas class trips. Other destinations include Brazil, China, Ireland, Italy, Australia, and Denmark. "We now cover  three of the four  BRIC countries-Brazil, China, and India. They're the future economic powerhouses among the developing nations," notes marketing professor and department head Easwar Iyer, who teamed up with sport management professor Todd Crosset to teach the course and lead the trip.


The India trip was nearly three years in the making. In 2007,  Crosset had spent part of his sabbatical in India with his family. When the Crossets returned from Todd's sabbatical trip, Isenberg School undergraduate dean Carol Barr encouraged him to return to India with a student group. To that end, Crosset  recruited Iyer to co-teach the course and co-lead the trip.


The trip combined immersion in Indian culture and business in and around two South Indian cities: Chennai, India's 4th largest city (population: 4.3. million); and  Madurai,  a temple- and culturally rich center  that is the oldest continually inhabited city on the South Indian peninsula. "Our aim was to balance visits to business and cultural sites-to get beneath the veneer of tourism," emphasized Iyer. "With that said, safety of the group was our top priority. We were painstakingly careful about transportation and living options."


A Kaleidoscope of  Learning Experiences. The students covered considerable ground: In Channai, they met with senior executives at the JWT advertising agency and the Tata Consulting Group, including a behind-the-scenes visit at a call center. At Film City, they learned how advertising film makers pursue their craft. And in Madurai, they visited the Aravind Eye Hospital.  Near Madurai, they visited two nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations. The first, the Covenant  Centre for Rural Development, promotes sustainable rural enterprise, micro-credit arrangements, and upward mobility for women. The second, the Dhan Foundation, focuses on rural development and environmental issues.


The students visited the ancient Meenakshi  and Alagar Koil temple complexes in Madurai. They attended Southern Indian music and folkdance performances and lectures on Indian weddings, tsunami relief efforts, and the role of English in South Indian education and society.  They attended the Chennai Open Tennis Tournament (as guests of its general manager) and a university cricket match. And they interacted with students at several Indian universities, including the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai and Lady Doak College for Women in Madurai.