Study abroad inspires new thoughts on diversity, dedication, the value of money

Over the holiday, I had the opportunity to study abroad in India for two weeks.

Put simply, the trip was amazing. I won’t go quite so far as to say it completely changed my life, but being exposed to such a different culture really did make me think about a few things differently.

About half of our trip was spent visiting Indian companies, learning about accounting, management, marketing and other business topics from the viewpoint of a different country.

From this exposure alone, I learned a lot. Even more striking, though, were the people who weren’t working in big corporations or common jobs in the business world.

Very prevalent in India are little shops along the streets, selling trinkets or food or homemade items. There are markets, street carts and people just selling things in the streets.

We saw all types of people on the streets and in the markets: those dressed in traditional clothing, and those wearing a more Western style of dress; both men and women; the very old, the very young and everyone in between; and people at varying stages of financial status.

There was so much diversity – so much it was almost overwhelming at times to try and take it all in. It was fascinating and chaotic and inspirational.

Through all the uniqueness of the country, one of the things that struck me as unifying was that so many people in India strove to start little businesses and endeavors to support themselves.  From the women selling bags on the street to the children selling trinkets to the men selling scarves in the market, I was impressed at the sheer quantity of people working to support themselves and their family in any way they can.

One of our hosts in India told us that there are two types of entrepreneurs: need-based entrepreneurs, who start businesses because the people have no other way of earning a livelihood, or opportunity-based entrepreneurs, who begin their endeavors to fill a need or earn some extra money because they can.

India has a very high population of need-based entrepreneurs and a very small group of opportunity-based entrepreneurs. For every person you see sitting in a little shop or selling something on the street, there’s a good chance that person is there because they seemingly have no other choice.

It takes patience to work in those conditions. It takes entrepreneurship and a little bit of know-how. But most of all, it takes a hell of a lot of bravery.

We have this type of persistence, dedication and drive in the United States, too; it’s just not always as noticeable.

Since we don’t have as much of the poverty that India has, we don’t think of people working their way up from the bottom as extremely inspirational or commendable. It just isn’t the way we think. We take for granted the fact that we are a first-world nation with more technology, infrastructure and money than other countries.

In America, we value money. Our society revolves around it, success is judged on it and wealth is what most of us strive to achieve.

However, seeing all the people in India who were working so hard made me think about what it means to be successful. Maybe I’m idealizing what I saw, but in a country where most people inherently make less money, there as to be something else of value to strive for.

My impression was that many people in India value work for the sake of work. I was blown away by their hospitality, loyalty, dedication and consistency.

Moving forward, as I look at the jobs I’m currently doing and the career I’m hoping to achieve in the future, I want to try to remember these things.

Maybe dedication should be viewed as just as worthy as achievement. Maybe the work ethic just as important as the job title.

This entry was posted on Monday, January 12th, 2015 and is filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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