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Monday 2 August 2004
Working abroad: Andrew Webster
Written by Andrew Webster, AIESEC member
Andrew on the main street in Old Delhi
Andrew on the main street in Old Delhi

Andrew Webster is working in India this summer.

He's on a placement with the AIESEC student organisation, and he's writing a regular diary on BBC Birmingham.

SEE ALSO

Stevie Cameron
Stevie's in The Philippines.
Introduction
Diary 1
Diary 2
CSR Conference
Diary 3
Diary 4

Andrew Webster
Andrew's in India.
Introduction
Diary 1
Diary 2
Culture Shock!
Diary 3
Diary 4
Diary 5

Jess Rudkin
Jess is working in the Czech Republic.
Diary 1
Diary 2
Diary 3
Diary 4
Diary 5

James Eder
James is sharing his marketing skills with local people in Colombia.
Introduction
Diary 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5
Diary 6 - Aims
Diary 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11
Diary 12 - 13 - 14 - 15
Diary 16 - 17 - 18 - 19

Working with AIESEC
Jame Eder introduces the student organisation.

AIESEC in Birmingham
Amaneeta Shokur explains more about AIESEC and how she is involved.

Scheila
Scheila came to Birmingham from Brazil on a student scheme run by AIESEC.

Students index

India
Profile of the country from BBC News.
WEB LINKS

AIESEC
Official website for the UK.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.

FACTS

INDIA FACTS

Population: 1 billion
(UN, 2003)
Capital: New Delhi
Major languages: Hindi, English and 17 other official languages
Major religions: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism
Monetary unit: 1 Indian Rupee = 100 paise
Exports: Agricultural products, textiles, gems and jewellery, software and technology, engineering goods, chemicals, leather

AIESEC FACTS

AIESEC (pronounced "i-sek") stands for the Association for the International Exchange of Students in Economics and Commerce.

AIESEC is the world's largest international student organisation with 30,000 members in over 86 countries.

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My last two weeks in India have been in many ways my most challenging. I have been integrated into the team of Indian AIESEC students as if I had always been part of them, and have played a central role in the recruitment of new AIESEC members.

This has involved interacting with hundreds of students everyday, both on a one to one basis and in presentations to larger groups of people. In true student style though I have still found time to 'burn the candle at both ends' by doing some travelling and meeting up with the trainees on a regular basis...

Cheesy dancing - for an audience

My first reaction when the music started was to close my eyes. I was hoping that when I opened them again the 70 Indian students, of whom I knew none, would no longer be sitting in front of me. So I began, 'big fish, little fish, cardboard box' - all the cheesy dance steps I had done a hundred times before, only in a conference room along with 200 others, never on my own on a stage in front of complete strangers.

Its part of the AIESEC culture to do dances, especially at conferences, in order to keep you awake and alive. Sadly a prospective member at the information seminar we were running had heard about such dances, and asked for a demonstration. Immediately I was volunteered by those who I thought were my good Indian friends of six weeks.

Thankfully at the last minute, one other bold and daring person, who incidentally is now my favorite person in India, joined me on stage. If you have ever seen the film 'About a Boy' it was kind of like the bit when Hugh Grant finds himself doing a solo of 'Killing Me Softly' in front of a school of 10 year old children. As I looked out at the shocked, scared and amused faces I heard the words of my father, "It builds character son, it builds character"!

Attracting new members

AIESEC members are recruited from colleges all over South Delhi, which make up Delhi University. The first step is to promote AIESEC on these campuses through approaching people, or giving classroom presentations and selling the concept of AIESEC in just a couple of minutes. This is challenging enough, because you know what a great opportunity AIESEC is and so could spend hours talking about it. In some cases teachers have even chased us out of classrooms before we have got the main points across, but I guess that's all part of the learning curve.

It has been quite demoralizing at times to talk to people, and then find them not interested in what you have to say, but every person who is enthusiastic and excited, is worth 100 rejected stares.

It's certainly been an experience where I have learnt not to take rejection personally and so have grown and grown in confidence. I now feel an amazing sense of achievement as I look over at the 300-plus applications we have received so far and look forward to the next stages of selection.

Different experience

The university experience seems quite different here to that in the UK, especially in terms of the freedom of students. It reminds me much more of post-16 colleges. I have seen none of the huge lecture theatres that dominate the UK institutions or the huge halls of residence.

Instead there are small and in some cases single gender colleges where the majority of students still live with their parents. I don't know if this is a fair representation of Indian universities, as I know there are bigger campuses, but whatever the case, everyone still seems to be having a great time in completing their studies.

Chaos in Old Delhi

As you stand at the entrance of the Red Fort and look towards the man made jungle that is Chandni Chowk, the main road in Old Delhi, your heart does start to beat slightly faster (see photo at the top of the page). All you can see and hear is the chaos of thousands of people, vehicles, and market stalls piled together in a space that barely seems big enough for people to move. With a deep breath you cross the road and join the chaos.

Cow
Cow in the road

Once submerged in the crowds, it's hard to see a way out. With what seems to be in no particular arrangement, the street is filled with people moving around, cycles and auto rickshaws beeping their horns and ringing their bells, market stalls set out all over the floor regardless of road or sidewalk, people pushing carts up and down trying to sell fruit and not to mention the cows and goats that go about their life oblivious of the madness around them.

There is none of the western refuge of fast food restaurants and shops you might find in New Delhi. Even buying the smallest item takes all your bargaining skill and effort.

Side street in Old Delhi
Side street in Old Delhi

The bazaars leading off Chandni Chowk seem slightly calmer, as they are small, narrow and over-arching, however they too are still filled with people and activity.

After two hours of pushing through crowds of people, waving away salesman and dealing with 44° of heat, we headed for a rest at a much calmer air-conditioned coffee bar. Such an intense environment is best visited in small blasts.

This area of Old Delhi is definitely the place I have visited with the most character and individuality. Apart from the cheap trainers some of the markets sell, the area seems to have avoided even the strongest forces of westernization. For an experience of Delhi Indian culture, religion and character Chandni Chowk is definitely the first place I would recommend.

Sharing beers & laughter

Phillipe and Andrew on their terrace
On the terrace

I have continued to spend time with the trainees and get to know them better. Aga, Phillipe and I, after finishing long days at work, spend many a night sitting out on our terrace, enjoying a nice cold Kingfisher, and reflecting on all the funny and different situations we have encountered during our day.

It's great because we are all becoming accustomed to the difference in culture, and situations that were once irritating can now be taken with a light heart. I don't remember ever laughing as much as I have during the last few weeks.

Meal out with the trainees
Andrew (left) shares a meal with other AIESEC trainees

When we get time we have also been able to go to a couple of trainee parties. This is such a great experience because it's a party filled with around 40 people from all over the world.

Conversations are taking place in every language you can think of, and no end of stories and advice is being shared. How can that fail to be a great night?

I have learnt that not only does AIESEC send people on traineeships for cultural experiences, but it also brings nationalities from all over the globe together, in order to share their experiences.

Making the most of it

I'm approaching my last couple of weeks in India, and as I do I am growing fearful of not making the most of all the time I have had.

Andrew and Aga with their new water machine
New water machine!

I still feel like I am just settling into Indian life, and have only had a quick glimpse of this amazing country and city.

Saying that, when I look back, I feel I have seen and experienced so much, and it really strikes me how diverse and immense country this is.

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Written by Andrew Webster

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