The international effort in action

Learning on the job, half a world away

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Last summer, Elisabeth Kruger ’07 left the friendly confines of College Hill to help build an international convention center halfway around the world.

Kruger traveled to India to work for Reliance Industries Ltd., a private sector powerhouse in India in the oil, chemical and textile industries. She and fellow Brunonian Ana Mahony ’06 worked for the Mumbai-based company for over a month, gaining business savvy and a taste for living and working in a different culture.

Kruger and Mahony were among 12 Brown seniors and recent graduates who traveled to India last summer to work for companies in Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta. Theirs was the first group to take part in an internship program for concentrators in Brown’s new interdisciplinary Commerce, Organizations, and Entrepreneurship program.

Kruger and Mahony were involved in hiring an architect, conducting soil samples and visiting the construction site for the convention center, a central component of the country’s effort to build infrastructure for a “special economic zone” designed to attract international investment. Special economic zones are already common in China, and the concept is now gaining ground in India, Kruger said.

The internship also allowed the duo to meet many of the company’s department heads and to spend time working in the company’s retail division, which operates large outlets Kruger likened to Wal-Mart. Her time in India, she said, taught her more about city planning and construction management than she ever thought she’d learn.

“It was more responsibility than I’d say I had at any other job before,” Kruger said.

She added that she found working in a foreign culture less challenging than she expected.

“Work is work and schedules are schedules,” Kruger said. “It wasn’t like working with a bunch of Indians was that different from working with a bunch of Americans.”

But, she said, never starting a meeting without first having tea took some getting used to.

“They always had time for tea,” she noted.

COE’s internship program, first conceived by Vice President for Research Clyde Briant during conversations with alums and others during a 2004 trip to India, will send another nine students – rising junior and senior COE concentrators – to work in India this summer.

The program benefits from connections with alums and others with ties to Brown who are currently in India, some of whom are leaders of the businesses involved. The companies provide room and board for the students, and a special donor fund set up to foster exchange with India covers travel expenses.

Administrators point to the program as a model for the new sort of international initiatives Brown hopes to develop.

Maria Carkovic, administrative director of the COE program, said the project is designed to give students a variety of skills.

“In a way, it is like any internship, plus the added cultural adjustment,” she said. “I think that immersion is very immediate and full when you’re working as opposed to being on a campus with students from your own country.”

For Kruger, the internship provided not only experience, but a new sense of confidence.

“I realized I’m comfortable living and working abroad,” Kruger said. “I would definitely do that in the future.”

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