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Exchange offer

It’s the start of a new year for the world, but for students it’s the start of the end of another year. And for those among these students doing their MBA, it will soon be time to decide whether to participate in the Student Exchange Programme, or just Exchange as the fraternity calls it. Since the decision is usually made at the end of the first year, JAM gets an expert to give you an insight into the process.

What is it?
The Student Exchange Programme typically happens in the second year of an MBA, when students get to spend one academic term abroad at a premier management institute of their choice. These include leading management schools in North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and South America. Similarly, students from these institutes get to spend an academic term at the home institute, thus, ensuring a healthy exchange of ideas.

Exchange students are treated as regular students of that college, enrolling in the subjects offered, and taking part in all the activities provided.

Students select universities based on the depth of subjects offered, the area of expertise and the location. US Colleges are in high demand, with their world-class facilities, faculty and students. These are followed by European colleges, with centrally-located Germany, with its lower cost of living being the first preference. A few students select South America or Asia (typically China/Japan), reasoning it is their best chance to learn about those cultures. These experiences, though difficult from the point of view of language and food, give students an opportunity to learn about a place that is really off the beaten track.

The selection process typically takes prior international exposure into account and favours students who haven’t been abroad. It, thus, provides equal opportunity for all to get a well-rounded international experience.

The Pros
The advantages of such an experience are fairly obvious. It offers students a chance to gain a wider perspective in management, along with an international learning experience. The programmes allow students to interact with leading faculty and students from all over the world.

According to Fehrzard Patel, an IIM-A student, who studied for a semester at Stern School of Economics in New York, “It was an inspiring experience listening to Nouriel “Dr. Doom” Roubini. He is one of the top financial minds in the world, and I was able to learn a lot of finance fundas from his lectures.”

Furthermore, students are exposed to people of diverse backgrounds. Abhinav Jain, an IIM-A student, had never gone out of Delhi and Ahmedabad, until he had the option of studying at Mannheim Business School, one of Europe’s top management schools. He felt that studying there “really opened his eyes to other cultures and societies and their way of working”. He found group meets pretty hard initially, given the natural barriers to communication, but soon he began to appreciate the methodical and efficient German style of working. He is confident that this experience will help him in working in a multi-cultural environment.

Another oft-cited benefit of exchange programmes is that they allow students to travel to different parts of their host country, during holidays and weekend breaks. Europe, with its smaller size and excellent transportation network, is particularly favorable for those who want to travel as much as possible.

The Cons
So, why doesn’t everyone go on exchange, you might well ask? The exchange process does have several drawbacks. Many students hold organisational responsibilities like club coordinators, or being an event representative, and don’t want to forgo this opportunity.

Secondly, the 5th term, when exchange typically happens, is when most B-schools have their fests. By going on an exchange programme, students lose out on a chance to participate in them.

Finally, comes the cost factor. The expenses come to Rs 3-4 lakh for the entire process, with accommodation, food and travel being the main costs. This remains true across continents, whether it is Europe or North America. To make this experience more accessible to a larger group, some companies and participating schools have instituted scholarships. But they are few and far between.

Decisions, decisions…
The questions are always many. The best way to decide is to talk to seniors and get a clearer picture. Then, listing your goals for the second year, and evaluating each alternative according to this for the
best decision.

Keep in mind
Food can be a real problem for vegetarians, since several universities are in small towns that may not have vegetarian options. Students normally take plenty of vegetarian food from India, and, ideally, discover their hitherto unknown cooking abilities. Clothes are another important factor – the weather can get really cold (with sub-zero temperatures during the day), especially in Scandinavian countries. Since the exchange process extends till December, winter-wear is essential, and much cheaper when taken from India.

Language might be another problem, since English is not spoken frequently in a number of places in Europe, Asia and South America. Some students learn the language of that country, while the unlucky ones use English and sign language to communicate. Students can always opt for classes in English, so studying does not pose a problem.

Finally, getting used to the culture and habits of other countries takes some time. Universities do their best to help students get over this, with frequent cultural nights, mentors and counselling sessions to ensure people hit the ground running.

Krishnamurti Ganesh is a graduate from IIMA, and went on an exchange programme to Jonkoping International Business School, Sweden.

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