Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Conversations from Trivandrum and the India Business Team

by Joyce Claterbos

I’ll be sending a series of short descriptions of our experiences in Trivandrum, India, as we participate in the India Business Study Abroad Program. For most participants, this is their first experience abroad.

We all arrived safely in Trivandrum at 3:30 am local time after 16+ hours on three planes. The only casualties of the trip were two pieces of luggage, one wounded and one missing in action but due to be recovered today. Adjusting to the time change will be challenging since Trivandrum is about 11 hours ahead of Lawrence. We’re asleep while you’re awake!
Erik, Nick, and Gordon enjoy fresh coconut water at a street vendor in Cochin.

Trivandrum is at the southern tip of India, with a tropical climate so the average daytime temperature is 80-85 degrees. It’s like being on a Caribbean island, complete with palm and banana trees! The rainy season is over so we can expect at most a few short showers, but lots of humidity. The city is the capital of Kerala, one of the 28 states of India. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India for both foreigners and native Indians because of its native beauty, especially the ocean beaches.

Our host organization is the Asian School of Business. The campus is still under construction, but we can see that it will be a beautiful campus when finished. (See www.asbindia.in for pictures and information about ASB). It is a private university, supported financially by investors much like Andrew Carnegie’s foundation to build libraries in the US. Our host, Professor K. Balakrishnan (Prof KB), explained that it’s quicker and easier to start a private university than to work with the necessary governmental agencies to build a public university. Our classroom is a technology enhanced case-style classroom.

The campus is located next to a new high technology industrial park (TechnoCity). Security is tighter than what we are used to, with security personnel in all buildings and access to the technology enhanced classroom restricted to badge carriers. The hostel has a 24-hour guard who knows who comes and goes at all times so we all feel very secure.

After a short organizational meeting and a meal, we all went to our rooms for some quiet time before lunch, tea at 4 pm and a trip to a local store to pick up the inevitable few items we forgot to pack.

The campus is close to the coast so after lunch several members of the group went on a “Short” walk find the ocean. Along the way they met several of the local residents.  People are very friendly! 
One of the costumed actors at Greenix, where we saw demonstrations of traditional dances and music. These costumes are essentially the same for centuries.

They were very eager to have their picture taken and help guide us on our way.

But we eventually ran out of road before we could see the ocean so we went back to the school to rest up for our first visit to the city.

Our first trip off campus showed us a vibrant moving city. Traffic in India is chaotic, confusing, and mostly uncontrolled. We were traveling to the center of the city during rush hour. We saw no traffic signals and only a single traffic officer at one intersection. And Trivandrum has 1M residents! The roads are two lane, but often cars and busses were doubled up in a single lane. And drivers, especially cyclists, were opportunistic, using the oncoming lane to bypass vehicles when there were gaps in oncoming traffic. And everyone uses their car horn. Prof. Joseph explained that Indians use their car horn as a courtesy to say, “Hello, here I am.” The hilly terrain means that roads and alleys aren’t in any sort of a grid, making for many awkward intersections. There are many local busses and every business wants a bus stop in front so the busses often hold up traffic.
Liz has some one-on-one time with one of the actors.

We visited Big Bazaar, a six-story department/grocery store. Big Bazaar is India’s Walmart. (http://bigbazaar.futurebazaar.com/indexBigBazaar.jsp). We saw some familiar global brands like Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s and many local brands and types of products that we couldn’t buy in the US.

Tomorrow, classes and company visits begin. More later! 

Joyce Claterbos is a marketing lecturer at the University of Kansas School of Business.