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Thursday, November 13, 2008






   When cinema studies professor at New York University, Richard Allen first arrived in India five years ago to do research at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi, he did not feel as if he was in a distant land. It was only after he fell down a manhole did he realise he was in India. 
   Similarly, faculty member at Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad, Richard Paul Waterman was immediately struck by the diversity and vastness of India. The climatic differences between north and south India and the 16 different types of fish he tried at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have made him come back to India six times in the last seven years. 
   Waterman, who is a statistics professor at Wharton, US, and Allen are part of a growing trend of international faculty members coming to teach in Indian schools and universities. 
   Many public and private universities are welcoming international faculty, who bring with them a different style of teaching and a new perspective on international subjects. 
   Likewise, the humble journey to India for Philip Oldenburg, political science professor at Columbia University, US, began in 1964, when he first came to teach English in Nagpur as part of the Peace Corps. He enjoyed his experience in India and since then has been coming to do research at JNU and now even owns a house in Gurgoan. 


While some professors come for pure business reasons, others have a strong degree of fascination for the country known for Ayurveda and yoga and lately, for a high rate of growth. 
   David Bell, a professor from New Zealand has been teaching marketing at Wharton, MIT and INSEAD for years and when he received the opportunity to teach at ISB in April, he was more than happy to come half way across the world to teach in Hyderabad. 
   "I have always wanted to visit India and this was an opportunity to do so, and India is extremely important, economically and culturally. So, I felt that as a business school professor I should check it out," he said. 
   Furthermore, German national Patrick Hoenig first came to India in 1994 after graduating from law school and was captivated by the political scenario in India. He said, "I travelled all over the country and was intrigued by the political debates but, being a student of international law, felt that a comparative angle was missing and maybe sometimes also a legal grounding." Hoenig has taught at the Academy of Third World Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi. 
   Their classes are not just confined to universities. For instance, intrigued by Bollywood, Allen decided to teach a course for 150 students on 'Hitchcock and Hindi Cinema' at the India Habitat Centre, Delhi. 


With India steadily being recognised globally for its services and consumer industry, education is also receiving its due attention. The international faculty members find Indian students hardworking and dedicated, and they have also noticed a sense of enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity in the student body. "High calibre students and a pleasant and respectful classroom atmosphere," said Bell. Similarly, Oldenburg said, "In the Indian system, the teacher is the partner of the student, rather than the referee. Teachers are more respected in India than in the US." 
   Although Hoenig is optimistic about the education system in India, he feels it still needs certain improvements. "We hear a lot about India's new confidence in science and this may well translate into a new class of self-assured, multilingual, cosmopolitan students, particularly in business schools and IT sector," said Hoenig, further adding that the "institutions are underfunded and teaching methodology reflects hierarchical structures little conducive to students developing their own ideas and speaking their minds." 
   Surprisingly, contrary to common assumption, international faculty members said teaching in India was quite similar to teaching in their home countries. Stine added that he didn't have to make any major change to his teaching pattern, but pointed out that he noticed a lack of diversity in the student body, unlike his home university. 
   Jacques Cretins, academic director, Alliance Francais de Delhi, said that French teachers bring new ideas and more information about the French culture and, therefore, it is always preferred that the faculty is mixed, so that they can interact. 


Shifting base and living in a new country, even if only for a few months, can never be easy. With faculty coming to different parts of the country, learning the language of that region is just one of the adjustments these newly Indianised individuals have to make. "In my work environment, English is the dominant language but you miss the jokes on the side and the undercurrents if you don't speak Hindi or Urdu and I regret that I don't," said Hoenig. 
   Further, adapting to the food and even the traffic can be a daunting task for these international faculty members, and often even for their families. "My kids are less fond of hot food and don't particularly care for curries," said Robert Stine, a professor at Wharton, who has also taught at ISB, adding that, therefore, they had lesser food options. 


Faculty from abroad bring with them, students say, examples and experiences from world over and, therefore, increase the practical applicability of the courses they teach. Radhika Bhalla, MBA student at ISB, said, "They use a lot of visual aid and exercises to teach and the most important thing is that everything is linked to the real world." 
   But, having not been brought up in India, these faculty members often need to understand the Indian psyche and teach accordingly. Nirav Rawal, MBA student at ISB, recalls an incident when his classmates brought up an example of the Indian scooter industry and its growth potential, but his international marketing professor, unaware of the importance of scooters in India did not understand the example until the students informed him about one of India's favourite modes of transport. 


Education is a two-way process, and hence India also teaches these faculty members a lot about life here as well. Alongside enjoying the 20-20 cricket matches, Bell began enjoying vegetarian food and even learnt how to cross the busy streets of Hyderabad. Further, Stine explained how he was surprised to see advertisements for Java servlet programmers on rickshaws. "India is full of these kinds of juxtapositions," he said. Likewise, Oldenburg was startled to learn about the non-acceptability of torn currency notes in India. 
   Most Indian universities directly tie up with their American counterparts for faculty exchange. Therefore, these international visitors are not associated with United States Education Foundation in India (USEFI), said Sudha Gandhi from the Press and Information Office, US embassy. 
   From travelling in an autorickshaw the wrong way down busy streets, to having their photograph clicked alongside innumerable fascinated Indians, these not-so-alien citizens of India have learnt to embrace India with all its strengths and flaws and are the true ambassadors of global interaction and understanding.




Sunil Sharma


Dil Se Desi Group


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