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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Students enrich summers with cultural immersion

While most students welcome the journey of heading back home after a year away at college and many choose to work locally, a small group of Aggies take a route that leads them overseas.

Both exercise biology majors, third-year Evan Shum and second-year Jillian Giblin spent their summers immersing themselves in foreign cultures.

Shum traveled to Thane, India, a city 40 minutes outside the cultural hub of Mumbai, as a participant in the Tata International Social Entrepreneurship Scheme (ISES).

Tata is the single largest India-based business group in the United States, owning well-known companies like Jaguar, Land Rover and Tetley. The Tata ISES program is designed to bring foreign students to different parts of India for two months to work on corporate sustainability projects for local Tata companies.

“One of Tata’s fundamental values is that the community is not where the business works,” Shum said. “It’s the reason for the business’ existence.”

The highly selective internship program began in 2008 and invites students of all majors from UC Davis, UC Berkeley, the London School of Economics and Cambridge University to apply.

This year, Shum was the only student from UC Davis participating in the program, with about 20 other students from the other universities.

“I think it’s an attractive program in that it’s a very unique opportunity to be embedded for [two] months,” said Niharika Chibber Joe, General Manager North America at TATA Sons Limited. “We are lucky in that we get really high quality students.”

Students in the program are placed in varying positions across the country, from corporate office work to more travel-intensive projects. Overall, the program aims to bring different perspectives to Tata, encouraging international understanding and cooperation.

“It gives [students] experience of having worked for an international company,” Chibber Joe said. “They really have a solid line item on their resume.”

Shum specifically worked for Tata Capital, with the job of coming up with an interactive learning module to educate Tata Capital employees in India about global warming.

Within this project, Shum was asked to research the effects of global warming on society and corporate sustainability, playing with the idea that running a business requires one to take into account the environmental, social and economic aspects of the venture.

“We are expected to come up with all the details, all the transitions, what the portal learning experience will be,” Shum said. “You have to give a perspective from your own background, that they wouldn’t receive being here at Tata. You have to what they need.”

On social issues, Shum worked with various non-governmental organizations regarding affirmative action, women’s rights and children’s education, in order to inform and encourage Tata Capital employees to get involved with such initiatives.

“What was really unique about this project is that they don’t give you a lot of structure,” Shum said. “It had no standards, no guidelines on what they want. You have to be willing to think outside the box and be innovative.”

Another part of the project dealt with the economics of being environmentally responsible. Shum worked with emission and cost calculations of Tata Capital to compare sustainability numbers.

Shum said although he enjoyed working on the social aspect of the project the most, the environmental parts were more mentally and academically challenging.

“As an exercise biology major, you learn chemistry and biology,” Shum said. “It was hard to be exposed to a subject [that] you’re supposed to learn from scratch and then educate other people about.”

Shum was also able to delve into the Indian culture headfirst. He visited tourist locations like the Taj Mahal and also saw extreme poverty firsthand.

“From the feedback we have received over the years, it’s a life-changing experience for [students],” Chibber Joe said. “They are really grateful to be in India under this experience, it’s given them a whole new perspective.”

Shum recommended the program to all UC Davis students and plans to return to India at some point in the future as well.

“It has been as much a humbling experience as it has been a learning experience,” Shum said.

Like Shum, Giblin, who studied abroad in Granada, Spain through the Sol Education Abroad program this past summer, attested to becoming more culturally aware.

“Before I went to Spain, I spent so much time at UC Davis with academics and work, always busy getting things done,” Giblin said. “In Spain, its a much more laid back lifestyle. It’s not just about me — it’s more about my family and my community, and being a part of something bigger. It was a very different lifestyle, but one that I value more.”

Although Giblin’s time was different from Shum’s in terms of academics, she does believe that learning about another way of life is something all students who have studied abroad can relate to.

“It definitely takes you out of your comfort zone and gives you an opportunity to meet people in different cultures. To see how people live differently, eat differently,” said Jane Giblin, Giblin’s mother.

Sol Education Abroad offered Giblin the opportunity to live with a Spanish host family, with whom she would speak, eat and live like a Spaniard.

“While I was there, I got to learn all the customs of Spain, I got to eat typical Spanish food that they cook at home and then got to learn how to make the food too,” Giblin said.

Apart from receiving the cultural experience, Giblin took two Spanish language intensive courses at the University of Granada. Giblin said teaching styles in Spain were different from those in the U.S. and that her Spanish has dramatically improved.

Before her trip, Giblin believed it was important to speak Spanish for career reasons. Now, her reasons for pursuing the language have expanded greatly.

“After going to Spain, it’s more than just something I would do for a job. I appreciate their culture, and I enjoy speaking Spanish,” Giblin said. “Being able to connect with people and speak another language is something that I realized is really important to me.”

Both Shum and Giblin agreed that their experiences abroad have changed the way they live in a positive way, and recommend all UC Davis students in all majors to try it as well.

“It’s an opportunity you will never forget,” Giblin said. “We live with a very focused and directed path of academics here in the U.S. But with study abroad, you learn a different way of life and realize that not everyone lives like we do.”

 

RITIKA IYER can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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