Educational Journey to India

In February 2016, the Rochester-Bern Executive Program organised an educational journey to India. These are my very personal and incomplete impressions from an exciting adventure.

By Fabian Ringwald, MBA Rochester-Bern, Class 20

The humming engines came to a stop, the vibrations ended and for a short moment there was silence. For the 500 passengers of the Swiss flight LX 147 the world seemed to have stopped before taking a deep breath again and starting the cacophony of life. Unstoppable. Overwhelming. All senses on overload, the subcontinent of India awaited us. "Please keep your seatbelt fastened until we reach the final parking position and the seatbelt signs are turned off" seemed to belong to a different world. It was not the mass of passengers returning to the city of New Delhi they call their home, ignoring the words of the first steward, that made us immediately aware that we had entered a different world. A world, in which bending rules and extending them using common sense was even higher valued than the absence of rules. And with the first ounce of tropical air that poured into the cabin through the opening doors we felt the heart and soul of India embracing us - there was an adventure waiting and we were curious where it might lead us.

We started our travel in New Delhi on the highest levels of Swiss diplomacy at the Swiss embassy for India. We had interesting  introductions to the vast business and educational landscape of India. This included a very informative and open discussion with Linus von Castelmur, the Swiss ambassador for India. Talking about the Indian economy, the Swiss-Indian relations and the potential and challenges for Swiss companies competing in the Indian markets, Linus von Castelmur provided us with a level of insights that would not have been accessible to us otherwise. On top we enjoyed interesting on-site visits of several companies (Consulting, Energy, Education) and institutions (All Ladies League).

From the clean and lean Bauhaus architecture embassy building (built by Prof. Hans Hofmann in the 1960ies) during the day, we went to crashing (almost) uninvited an upper class wedding at night. The colors of the rainbow only begin to describe the decoration, the dresses and the food presented there. We had the chance to enjoy the beginning of the ceremony, where the groom meets the bride, exchanging flower bracelets prior to celebrating with several hundreds of invited guests from both families.

The next day we were getting efficiently integrated in the (very) short-term volunteering work-force at a Sikh temples 24/7 kitchen, baking bread and cooking milk-rice for feeding 1000 hungry souls and mouths per day. In case you want to try this at home, here is the recipe: 200 liters of milk, 20 kg rice, 20 kg sugar, 3 kg dried fruits and a few handful of spices. All mixed into a giant wok, placed on the open fire.

Peaking behind the curtains here and there like that, unfolded daily life from the lowest to very well established levels before our eyes. It is hard to tell what impressed more. It was the experience of the appreciation of success by means that strike us like they belong into ancient history that challenged our minds, shaped in one of the most developed countries on earth. For us, the individual challenges we recognised there seem often enough simple to solve - within the holistic economic situation of the emerging India they are not. With that in mind it was absolutely stunning to witness the everyday improvisation and solution finding abilities visible on any level. Comfort and luxury getting redefined everyday.

Aside the contacts with diplomacy and economy, the cultural diversity was overwhelming. Being it the hard facts such as 128 different languages that are more or less official or the presence of almost every religion on earth (India is home to the second biggest Muslim community world wide, second only to Indonesia) this is where the colours come to play. From the most beautiful Sari (women dress) to an extensively spread amount of illuminated advertisement - there seemed to be no such thing as too much color.

Given the chance - would I go again? Yes. This was a journey that allowed for insights into India that an individual traveler does not get access to, usually. Hence, even if you are bit like me, reluctant to join a group travel and normally very happy to explore the world on your own, this journey and the ones that hopefully follow might be your exception for the rule. It is worth it.