As I sat in the Mumbai airport my mind traced back to how I got there. By way of New Orleans and Newark I had arrived to an already sleeping Mumbai and taken the 20 minute long bus trip to the Domestic Transfers. Then, in the dark wing of the airport, I was surrounded by sleeping Indians and one surprisingly chipper Punjabi 21 year old, Deeraj, fascinated by American culture and my short hair. But more indirectly I had arrived there, almost by chance. An almost spontaneous application had paved the way for me to be sitting here and although I was tired to my bones, I couldn’t help but smile. I was thankful even for the 12 hour layover as I had time to reflect. Without internet or power source I was able to have a rare non-digital interaction with someone who lived a life completely different from how I had.
As ‘Deej’ and I talked he explained the caste system, the dress, the religion, the languages, and the diversity that India afforded. He told me of his upbringing in a small village up north, farming with his brother and sister and enduring unspeakable acts and strict rules in the Indian Naval Academy to give his mother the life she “deserved.” This story while difficult to empathize with struck a cord where I realised how much my school had afforded me. For starters we were allowed to use phones and contact our parents whenever we wanted. We also were not required to wait until our seventh semester to enjoy laptops and could watch tv, play video games, or enjoy leisure time as we pleased.
As Deej talked of “Academy land,” the drills, and his platoon’s duty to win the yearly 10 kilometer run, I slowly began to tell him of my school. He was amazed that I had traveled to the other half of the world just for school and not on the demand of the military and that our school trusted us enough to travel without stringent restriction on companionship and timing. But his amazement reached a peak when I talked about my program and what we had done in the summer months and as a group leading up to this trip, not just the school but the trips all over the city and outings. Sure, he had friends through his school, but on the rare chance that they were given leave or liberty from the school or boats they either went home or got in trouble for doing just what our school often encouraged us to do.
When asked if this was normal, for American schools to encourage small groups to drink together and enjoy each other, I had to pause to reflect that it was not normal. It was more representative it seemed of the Indian ideal of corroboration and cooperation in everything, including social life, than of the American ideal of competition and one-upmanship. It was then I began to wonder how much our program had tried to pioneer a new type of business person. One that understood that the whole was greater than the sum of the parts and one that understood the need to be able to communicate and use other cultures.
One stark difference that stood out to both of us was the difference in tutelage. Primarily the descent and depth of which our professors talked about their pasts and personal lives. In short, while Deej’s all Indian teachers seemed focused on getting the material across in one setting my teachers from varied countries and backgrounds were much more focused on us understanding the material in any situation and culture. Deej knew very little of his teachers beyond their names while I knew about almost all of my teachers personal lives through the many anecdotes of their personal and work lives used to illustrate examples.
During this 12 hour layover I learned more about how fortunate I was than I could have ever realised before. With the glass shattered I was ready to learn more and to be truly thankful for every opportunity and every business I would see.