Less about Place, More about People

Healthcare and culture both on India Field Seminar’s agenda.

What is it like?

That’s the question Mark Allan, Executive Director, Institute for Health System Innovation & Policy, says everyone is always asking him. Having lived in India for two years and continuing to lead Questrom’s India Field Seminar, Allan always has his response ready. First, he asks, “What city do you live in?”  Then, he says, “Imagine you go to sleep tonight and ten times more people show up.”

All jokes aside, “the density of India is 12 times the US,” says Allan.

That’s a lot of people—and a lot of culture.

The two-week India Field Seminar gives graduate students an international perspective and experience of India through a healthcare lens. For Health Sector MBA+ MPH student, Jennifer Gates, it was the India seminar’s focus that appealed to her most. And it wasn’t just the healthcare focus she was referring to; it was its focus on culture.

During their two-week exploration of the country, the group visited several healthcare sites including Max Health, Public Health Foundation of India, AIIMS, and Palwal District Health Services.

But, healthcare wasn’t the only thing on their list. “We integrated peoples thoughts and interests,” says Health Sector MBA student Nathan Anderson. Among the many experiences the group squeezed into their itinerary was a sitar concert, a cricket game, a yoga session, a cooking class, a visit to a marble factory and, of course, the Taj Mahal. “We were a ton of people with different interests and we managed to make it all happen,” says Lewis Seton, Professional Evening Public & Nonprofit MBA student who attended the trip.

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    An umbrella with traditional Indian mirror-work. Photo by Jen Gates

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    Meeting dabbawalas in Mumbai. Their simple delivery system has existed for over a hundred years. It has also been studied as a case in the Harvard Business Review. Photo by Varada Raju

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    A bird's eye view of Jaipur, in India's desert state of Rajasthan. Photo by Lewis Seton

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    A meet and greet with an organization in the Indian health care sector.

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    The densely populated city of Mumbai is a meeting point of cultures, commerce and industries. Photo by Varada Raju

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    Students paid a visit to Jaipur Foot, a non profit that provides artificial limbs to patients free of charge. Photo by Samuel Read

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    Students immersing themselves in the true India experience. Photo by Samuel Read

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    Getting a taste of Indian classical music. Photo by Samuel Read

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    The field seminar was packed with visits to health care organizations.

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    The Taj Mahal was built in the memory of his queen Mumtaz Mahal by king Shah Jahan. Photo by Samuel Read


Allan explains that with these trips he’s after the deeper sense of the culture and human experience of the country, “Part of the experience is really deeply connected with the idea of understanding global differences and understanding culture.” He says that students learn not to take anything for granted, a crucial piece of education. “People come back with a different view of themselves,” he says.

For Seton this is true, he says, “Looking at families having to decide where to put their money and weighing these financial decisions was hard for me to comprehend without having  gone over there.” The trip gave him, “real-world context,” that he’s now putting into practice.

Fang Qian, Professional Evening MBA student, says, “Having an international perspective is very important, but an experience, that’s worth even more.” And experience is what she gained. She explains that the Indian culture is about, “taking risks and fighting for the better life,” she explains, “people are not afraid of failure there.”

Allan, passionate as he is about the country, is even more passionate about its people and getting his students to understand their perspectives. He explains, “There’s almost no work and no jobs. Even people who have jobs, the poorer ones, there’s not much to do,” says Allan, “In Dharavi, the largest slum in Asia, people do recycling, but they take the most tiny piece of trash and deconstruct it into all its parts. There are people who spend their entire day separating little bits of trash. It’s disturbing and yet they have this drive.”

He says, passionately, “The spirit of the people is the best part of the country.”

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