Scavenger hunt, or the benefits of experiential learning

The team, accompanied by the Byrraju staff, spent the morning in Bhimavaram City and the afternoon in a nearby village.

I’m a firm believer in experiential learning to anchor theoretical knowledge; a big shocker since I’m India. One of our required readings, Out of Poverty by Paul Polak, offers 12 “practical solutions to poverty” which include:

  1. Go to where the action is.
  2. Talk to people who have the problem and listen to what they have to say.

Sounds a lot like experiential learning, doesn’t it?

In my opening post, I talked about perceptual lenses and the importance of being mindful of them. Despite that awareness and the intent to be watchful, it took being out in the field to realize I was still looking through the the lens of my own context.


One of our survey questions was “If you were to dream of a much better life, what would that life look like?” I found the scale of dreams in the responses to be surprisingly small compared to what I realized later that I had been expecting. The rikshawala (rikshaw driver) we spoke to, for example, didn’t want to do anything else but keep pulling rikshaw for the rest of his life. Another person who had a water buffalo that produced income-generating milk, would have liked another water buffalo.

Try as I might, I could not get away from my own cultural context, expectations and assumptions. Perhaps it’s a function of the lifetime exposure to the halo effect of the American Dream. The underlying question I’ll be thinking about in the days to come is who decides whether the dreams expressed by these people are either appropriate or self-limiting?


One cup of tea

December 9, 2012 — 8am

I walk slowly from the faculty guesthouse to the campus in the brightening morning light, taking the long route along the road instead of the short cut across the field. A wiry bicycle ridden by an even wirier boy passes me. The boy and I catch each other looking back over our shoulders.

The Institute of Management Technology – Hyderabad campus is only a year and a half old and is still under construction. “The campus is designed according to the asymmetrical architectural rules of vaastu shastra, the Indian equivalent of feng shui,” Archana, our faculty host, informed us yesterday on a campus tour. “This is to improve energy flow.”

As I go through the process of adjusting to local time, 12 ½ hours ahead of Portland, I could use some improved energy flow.

I slow my stroll down even more as I pass through the campus courtyards toward “the mess,” hoping to absorb as much vaastu energy as possible. I’m an hour early for breakfast but my vaastu prayer is answered when Rajeesh, a boy who helps in the kitchen brings me a hot cup of chai as I sit down with my journal and wait for the rest of our class to arrive.

Three more of our students arrived in the wee hours of the morning. Orientation starts at 10am, when we’ll meet some of the Indian business students we’ll be working with during our time in Hyderabad next week.  The pace is about to pick up.

But first, this quiet morning and this perfect cup of chai.



The chai station in the IMT mess
The chai station in the IMT mess

Go For Launch – at last…

… I am underway!

Sitting in Portland International Airport on a clear Saturday morning, the sun just peeking through the clouds, I am elated. I made it; I’m going to India!

A good friend of mine has a great way of acknowledging and overcoming complex situations with one deft line: “there are a lot of moving parts here”. For a non-US citizen applying for an entry visa to India while residing in the US, the parts were many, and they moved in ways I didn’t know existed.

I didn’t know if I’d get there at all, let alone get there on time. Fortunately it all worked out and while I will arrive a couple days late, I will arrive. It helped a lot to focus on my Circle of Influence, knowing what I can control and what I can’t. I can plot my course and keep my sails trimmed right, keep a keen eye out and adjust when I need to, but at the end of the day there are so many other factors at play beyond my Circle of Influence that help to get me to my intended destination.

I think the whole ‘pre-adventure’ has set me up well for this voyage to India. It makes life more uncertain, but all the more wondrous as well. I’m cool with that.


Setting sail for India, across the mighty Pacific Ocean to immerse myself in a civilization 100 times older than New Zealand, my home. We travel light, but no orc-hunting today!

Holy Buckets! I can’t believe…

…that my flight is tomorrow. With final exams, final papers, new job preparations, purchasing a home and thoughts about holidays, it’s hard to believe that our 2 week adventure to India is literally right around the corner. I have gone from waiting for weeks to now waiting mere hours, and not without a bit of trepidation. At the same time, I am anxiously awaiting what is around that corner and the experiences I will have about which I can only begin to imagine.

The driving force for my interest in this trip (in addition to the obvious, I’m going to INDIA) is now almost 7 years old. The idea of social enterprise and the impact it can have on the lives of others is something I have known from an academic sense for quite a while. My college career was focused on it and I have begun to have this focus in my graduate degree life as well. However, as we all know, that which I know intellectually is not nearly as powerful, meaningful or impactful as that which I know through experience. And what an experience I hope to have.

I must say, I am thankful to have been towards the latter half of the group to post my initial thoughts. Thanks for the reminders about the things I was just about to forget to pack (Mike, glasses lens cleaner…how did I almost forget, especially looking out my currently smudged glasses!!). Also, I appreciate seeing and understanding a bit better your thoughts and ideas. And, perhaps most importantly, reading what you all have written reminds me that all will be good, and I do have what seems to be a great group with whom I am traveling.

Final words of prep before I run off to the store: Clear your mind; be present every moment; relish the amazing, the good, the bad, and the ugly…they each make the experience what it is; come back changed; say YES to as many experiences as you can; make an impact, however great or small.

To my family and friends who read this, see you on the other side!

Packing my lenses (and lens cleaner)

Magnetic Lenses by Theen ..., on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Theen … 

As I look forward to the journey that begins next week, I keep returning to the idea of perceptual lenses. I’m going to try to be extra mindful of my own lenses/perspective throughout our journey, and will do my best to switch to different perceptual lenses to be more fully engaged in the experience.

Speaking of lenses, a few words on the minutia of packing. Not only will my perceptual lenses need constant attention, but if the rumors of extreme dustiness are true, so will the lenses in my glasses! When packing light is imperative,1 and one has no idea how much time we’ll have to go to the chemist (to start using the right terms) or market, figuring out how to have the essential glass care tools on hand is an unexpected challenge. (Side note to Jude: it frightens me how much smaller your packing piles are than mine. I think my back is going to give me an earful.) This is just one small decision/trade off that has to happen for every single item that goes in your bag. I’m surprised at how much cognitive effort this creates, and it’s incredibly distracting from more important things.

What’s more important than getting ready for the trip? Like Kate, my family has been unbelievably supportive. My wife and daughters have been incredibly understanding and tolerant of my frequent disappearing act during the MBA program. (“Where’s dad?” “Oh, right. In the office.”) My parents have stepped up to help out throughout the program, and my sister has been very understanding of her flaky brother. Being away for almost 2.5 weeks, however, seems simply too much to ask of my daughters, especially when it’s very possible I may not have access to Skype for several days. All the craziness of wrapping up finals, spinning down at work, and the aforementioned packing are making it hard for me to do what is most important but feels like a luxury: spending some quality time with my family before I leave. In some ways, it feels like I’ve already left. My wife, supportive as ever, keeps reminding me that it’s temporary.

I know that once the journey is underway, my perspective will shift drastically. But right now, my lenses are a little melancholy-tinted.

Thanks to Alison’s visual reminder, I’m now off to pick up something for my left wrist: a watch. It will serve both as a visual cue to eat with my right hand, and as a way to keep time since I won’t have my usual watch (iPhone) ready at hand.

In closing, a note to self: once you get back, to reward yourself for pushing through these last few months, spend lots of time with your family, and play lots of guitar to make up for the musical desert of the last few years. You’ve earned it.



1 Carry on baggage, for example, is one bag of 15 lbs. or less.

We all have our reasons…

With only four days left to the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime experience and preparations winding down, I have a million things on my mind… finals to survive, projects at work to hand off, friends/family to see before I go, etc. But there is one thing I’ve made an effort to always keep in mind no matter how hectic things get. Why am I doing this?

The answer? My family. My interest in social enterprise stems from my genuine gratitude for the foundation my parents provided throughout my childhood and for their continued support today. I’ll never be able to thank them enough for all they’ve done. I volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters a few years ago in an effort to help a child who has been less fortunate in her family life. I hope to someday utilize social enterprise to assist underprivileged kids and to strengthen family units because of the impacts strong family ties have had on every facet of my life.

Anyone who really knows me knows that my parents and two brothers are my world. And as hard as it will be to miss the holidays at home, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to further explore India beyond the program. And my family’s support has been fantastic. Within 24 hours of one another, I received two incredibly thoughtful gift packages: one from my brother and one from my mom. All of the items were amazing and greatly appreciated, but two items were particularly meaningful: a moleskin journal with hand-written notes from my brother and a suitcase Christmas ornament from my mom with ‘India 2012’ written on it.

Travelin' Gifts from the fam
Travelin’ Gifts from the fam

My family led me to where I am today as I’m about to embark on this adventure, and their support solidifies that I made the right decision to grab this opportunity. I can’t wait to embrace it with this incredible group of fellow travelers.

And so, I’ll leave you with the ‘Travelin’ Proverb’ written in my journal:

“May your walkin’ sandals carry you to new places, new experiences and new understandings without so much as a single blister or stubbed toe.” – A wise Dan once said, Dec. ’12


Ready or Not…

my packing piles
my packing piles

I’ve been gathering the requisite items for my trip: money belt, adapter, gifts for hosts, hand sanitizer, pepto, and no less than 3 bottles of DEET in different forms. Physically, I’m feeling close to prepared and ready.  Mentally, not so much.  I depart for India in 5 days but I have other things on my mind:  I still need to write 3 final papers, put in a final day at work, help plan a big event that I’m missing next week, celebrate my mom’s birthday, and find out if all my stuff is going to fit into my backpack.

But I know this is happening whether I feel ready or not. And I am committed to showing up and being present in the experience.   I like to be in control, and I know I will need to relinquish it.  I have few expectations, aside from knowing this will be far different from the rest of our MBA experience.  I do feel ready to embrace the unknown and the challenge, and I am confident and thankful I will be in good company.