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Business students gain cultural confidence through immersion trip to India

Jim Arnold in IndiaA three-week Winterim immersion experience in India has left some business students more confident in their ability to navigate new cultures and more open to the idea of embracing new experiences as they consider their futures. 

"I feel more open to possibilities now," said Vanessa Kane, a senior accounting major who was part of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire College of Business' India Globalization program. "Many of the Indian students we met take their business education and use it to follow their passion. That's a good lesson to learn. Just because I've decided on a career, that doesn't mean that's what I'll always be doing. I'm open to taking more risks on interesting opportunities now, which in the past would have freaked me out." 

Kane was among the15 students from the College of Business who traveled with two faculty mentors to India in January. In India, they attended lectures by professors from Shri Ram College of Commerce at Delhi University on topics related to business, economy, politics, society, religion, history and culture. They also visited cottage industries, businesses and cultural sites in New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Traveling with the students were Dr. Dawna Drum, assistant professor of accounting and finance, and Ann Rupnow, entrepreneurship and economic development coordinator. 

A nontraditional student from Holcombe, Kane said she was anxious to have an international immersion experience but couldn't leave her family for a full semester. The three-week timeframe was doable, and the India program was especially attractive because it included opportunities to interact closely with local students in another part of the world. 

"I was asked many times before the trip why I was going to India, and I didn't have a good answer other than because I wanted to," Kane said. "Now that I've had this experience I have so many reasons to give. The people are brilliant, friendly and genuine. Every day I woke up to a new adventure. India grabs ahold of your heart and doesn't let go. I truly believe, 50 years from now, I'm still going to feel the pull." 

When senior Jim Arnold enrolled in the India Globalization program he was looking for an opportunity to expand his knowledge of India and to experience a culture very different from his own. 

The lectures and tours were interesting and educational, but it was the interactions he had with the Indian people that made the immersion experience so powerful, Arnold said.

"The highlight of the trip was working with the Indian students because they were some of the nicest people I have ever met," said Arnold, a senior accounting and finance major from Hartland. "They were kind, down-to-earth, caring and overall just positive people. I traveled to India to get outside my comfort zone;I never thought I would connect with the Indian students the way I did during those three weeks. I became really close friends with many of them." 

Like Arnold, interacting with local students was the highlight of her time in India, Kane said, noting that two experiences in particular stand out: Attending a show at Kingdom of Dreams and visiting different religious sites.  

"The music and dancers at KOD were like nothing I've ever seen before, and it was fun having the Indian students trying to explain to us what was going on," Kane said. 

Visiting the religious sites helped her understand the diversity of religions within India, and talking with the Indian students about those differences provided insight into how people with differing views manage their differences, Kane said. 

On a personal level, the trip motivated her to overcome some of her fears —such as her fear of heights —so she could fully embrace the experiences offered, Kane said.

"One of my favorite parts of the trip was visiting the Amber Fort," Kane said. "I'm deathly afraid of heights and the elephant ride up to the fort was terrifying, but it was absolutely worth it because that place is spectacular. Overcoming my fears during the trip has given me more faith in my ability to handle unexpected situations." 

Arnold said that his time in India is helping him see the world in a different, more positive way. It's also motivated him to seek out more opportunities to learn about other people and places.

"I now want to travel the world and spend time with people of other cultures," Arnold said. "I'm more confident now that I can successfully navigate other cultures." 

Balancing college with the needs of her family has limited Kane's ability to participate in many of the high-impact experiences offered at UW-Eau Claire so the India experience was even more meaningful, she said. 

"For me, this may have been an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Kane said. "I'm not changing my career plans because of this experience but it's made me think about things differently and be more open to new possibilities so it will have a lasting impact."