Sunday, March 8, 2015

Study Tour at SJMSOM: A Winter School at Paris and a European vacation!

Even though a two-week long tour with friends in Paris might sound more like a hike where you go backpacking through Europe, but the “Winter School” conducted by Shailesh J. Mehta School of Management (SJMSoM), IIT Bombay in association with Telecom Ecole de Management (TEM), Paris is actually a two-week long study tour wherein 20 students are selected every year to visit TEM, France to gain insights regarding the management education system in a European nation, through various interactive classroom sessions, industry visits and cultural tours as well.

Our journey was a much anticipated one as for most of us, it was the first time we were going to travel abroad. Our tour was planned separately amongst two groups, where one group had planned to visit Amsterdam, Belgium, Paris, Zurich, Lucerne, Milan and Venice, and the other group had planned the trip from Amsterdam, Belgium, Paris, Venice, Rome and Vatican City. Having planned everything meticulously, we waited with bated breath on the night of our travel.  The chill of the night had started to set in. With our bags packed, we waited anxiously for the cab. The eerie silence of the night was disrupted by the honking of the cabs which would take us to the airport. As the chauffer drove the car through the deserted streets, we couldn’t stop anticipating what the next couple of weeks had in store for us. After the immigration and other formalities were over, we were ready to board our first international flight from Terminal 3 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi. It was a one-stop Russian Airline that was supposed to take us to Amsterdam via Moscow. After a six hour long flight where we crossed the Asian continent, we finally landed in Moscow. It was a beautiful sight from the top. Frost covered pine trees, the rooftops of houses and the ground covered with snow was a sight seldom seen in India apart from places like Kashmir. Despite the urge of visiting the city, we had to spend five long hours at the airport as we didn’t have a transit visa. Finally, we boarded the flight from Moscow and reached Amsterdam in the evening with the chilled breeze blowing gustily onto our faces, which immediately made us wear the gloves, mufflers, caps and then cling to our jackets.

Our tour started in Amsterdam, which is one of the most beautiful small cities in the world. From the canal rides to the famous Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum, and the amazing night life and pub culture, it’s all worth experiencing. We covered an entire city tour with major stops at places like Heineken Experience within a day. With another day to spare, we also didn’t miss out on the visit to the famous Ajax Stadium, Madame Tussauds, and Vondel Park. The same night, we set off for Paris with a short halt at Belgium.

Paris is known by many names: The city of lights, the city of Love and even the city of food. Being one of the most visited cities in the world, the experience in Paris was completely different to what we experienced in Amsterdam. Being the third largest metropolitan area in Europe, Paris had an extremely well connected network of subways, trams and busses. Finding our way would have definitely been a problem, had it not been for the maps provided in every outlet of the subway. And thanks to technology, most people had GPRS enabled mobiles, which helped us in finding our way to the Evry Courcouronnes metro station. Courcouronnes is a commune in the southern suburbs of Paris, and that’s where TEM was situated. We checked in to Residhome aparthotel, which was one of the best tourist residences situated in Evry. Shortly thereafter, we met Ms. Bhumika Gupta from TEM, who accompanied us from our hotel to the college. After a 15 minute long walk through the streets of Evry, we reached the college. After a short introductory session with some professors, Ms. Gupta had us complete a few formalities, and then we were free for the day. We planned a visit to the Eiffel tower, but before that we needed to have our travel passes, and also purchase some essential food items. I know I’m not supposed to advertise brands, but truly I need to mention Carrefour which had people a part and parcel of our lives during our stay in Paris. It was one stop shop to all our daily needs.

The following day, we had our first session which was taken up by Professor Nigel, who provided some rich insights in the field of mobile internet and marketplace. Shortly thereafter, we had lunch in the college cafeteria and came to attend the second session with Prof. Bhumika Gupta, who conducted an extremely interactive session on Organization Culture and Human Resource Management, where we understood the basic differences in the organization culture in India and France, which even inspired some of us in wanting to stay back in Paris and work. In the days that followed, we had both interactive sessions as well as industry visits. Some of the sessions that were conducted included talks about Google search appliances, interaction with experts from Alcatel Lucent, L’Oreal and lectures on cinema, world economics, supply chain networks and the French culture. Some of the industry visits included a visit to Orange labs, Renault and Airbus. The study tour struck a balance between study and fun. Some of the other visits during the study tour included a visit to Ecole de Mines, Stade de France, UNESCO and Cite du Cinema. The learnings from each and every session was enormous as it brought an international perspective into the way we looked into things. We learnt to look beyond and gained a lot from the experience.

However, this was just a small part of the two weeks we spent in Paris. Every day we used to visit some place or the other in Paris. A walk along the well-lit streets of Champs-Élysée, which runs between the Place de la Concorde and the Place Charles de Gaulle, garnering the pleasure of consuming several French delicacies and looking at the perfectly decorated Christmas market was worth visiting. Apart from that a visit to the top of the Eiffel tower, the enormous corridors of Musée du Louvre, the Notre dame, the Sacré-Cœur, the Indian market at Gare du Nord and everything else had its own charm. The weekend at Versailles, France was an experience that would remain with me forever. The pure beauty of the place was enough to make me fall in love with France all over again. The small but extremely mesmerizing town of Versailles had all of us wondering what would have happened if we could plan our retirement in such a place. Like all good things, the tour of Paris got over and both the groups parted ways.

Next, we visited the 'floating city' of Venice. "The Fish" as they call it, Venice is a cluster of islands separated by narrow and wide canals, in the shape of a fish. The city, with its mask shops, gondola rides, canal cruises, narrow corridors and alleys, the beach at Lido Island separated by the Adriatic sea with a flock of seagulls here and there, is mesmerizing in its own way. To add to its beauty, were the mouth-watering, authentic Italian spaghetti, pasta and gelato. Our next stop was in Rome, Italy the city that produced many great legends. The feeling of just being at the Colosseum was worth remembering. Having covered all the monuments and destinations in the Caesar shuffle, we visited Vatican City the following day. Vatican City is an independent country within the city boundaries of Rome. It is the only existing example of a country within a city, and precisely for this reason Rome has been often defined as the capital of two states. The last day in Rome started with a visit to the ruins in the district of Ostia Antica, which was also known as the harbor city of ancient Rome. The quiet and the serenity of the place made us wanting to not leave the place. But the day had arrived when we were supposed to board the flight to Moscow and back to India. We left Italy to head back home, and carried along with us the memories of a winter school and a vacation well spent. We returned with the hopes and dreams of visiting the other countries of Europe if we could be back again sometime in the near future. Thanks to Paris and a special thanks to the Telecom School of Management for making it possible for us to have the time of our lives!
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Written by Reeju Guha, a First Year student at Shailesh J. Mehta School of Management, IIT Bombay (2014-16)

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