Being interested in travelling and having travelled the length and breadth of India, Europe was a long cherished dream. I had been researching about Europe and particularly about France since quite some time. Getting shortlisted for the International Student Exchange to Grenoble Ecole de Management, France, for me, was a dream come true. All the micro-planning started soon after. Just when I though it couldn’t get any better, it actually got, when I unexpectedly got shortlisted for the Charpak International Exchange Scholarship, by Embassy of France in India, being one of the 18 students from across the country!(Credit goes to the IR Committee for informing us about it)
In the early hours of 31st December, we landed at Charles De Gaulle Airport, Paris. After taking the train to city centre and having realized how steep the taxi fares were, we walked for a couple of kilometers with our heavy luggage to reach our hotel. The excitement level was at such a high that even sub-zero temperatures, sleep deprived body and the long walk couldn't drain our energy.
After a little rest, we left for a walk. By this time, our hunger pangs were at a new high, and after much deliberation about eating Vietnamese or Thai or Chinese or Cambodian, we finally settled for McDonalds, the epitome of standardization (and Capitalism!). While we ordered at McD, we had realized and had come to terms with the fact that there was a huge difference in purchasing power of INR and EURO,and ironically, we got the feel of The Economist’s Big Mac Index at a McDonalds! We also were a little surprised that very few people spoke English even in a cosmopolitan city like Paris. ‘Parlez-vous anglais?’(do you speak English?) was to be our anthem for the next four months!
31st evening, the New Year’s Eve, was long awaited for all of us. After all, it’s not every day that one gets to celebrate a New Year at The Eiffel Tower! The Tower, glowing in all its might, with all the lights, looked more magnificent that it did in the photos and videos. We couldn't help but capture it from every possible angle. Next morning, we visited several tourist attractions such as Notre Dame, Arch De Triomphe, Champs Elysees etc., bowled over by the city’s beauty every time, which towards the end of the exchange program I realized, was the most beautiful city I had ever seen.
The next day, we reached Grenoble, the town where our Exchange School was located and also our base camp for the upcoming trips across Europe. Situated among French Alps, this city boasts of being the host to The Winter Olympics, 1968. With snow capped mountains all around and two rivers flowing through it, the city was indeed beautiful. We checked into out apartments, which didn't happen before we got all the paperwork done, including opening a bank account. France is known to be a very bureaucratic country but we didn't face much difficulty despite the language barrier, probably because we had seen worse!
We received a warm welcome at our new school, Grenoble Ecole de Management and were provided with a tour of the school followed by an orientation program. Classes commenced soon after. I was excited to experience studying in a ‘Western’ School. I noticed a lot of similarities and some differences during my semester at the School. Almost all the professors teaching us were experts in their respective fields. International case studies being taught at our home school (IIM Raipur) ensured that case-study based learning wasn't new to us. A major difference that I observed was that professors here were much more informal with the students compared to that in India. It was probably because of the theory of ‘Power Distance’, which is much higher in Asian cultures, compared to that in western cultures. Among the entire list of subjects, Geopolitics was the one that I liked the most. It was taught by five different professors and all of them presented it in an interesting manner.
Euro Trip for us, started with Geneva, which was 2.5 hours away from Grenoble. This is when we realized that Switzerland was even more beautiful than what we had seen in Yash Chopra movies. This was followed by numerous trips in the next three months that totaled 24,900 Kilometers of Train Travel in 14 countries and 29 cities. To sum it up, we saw the beautiful beaches in French Riviera, the grand canal system in Venice, Art and paintings in Florence, Leaning Tower in Pisa, Colosseum in Rome, Papal Town in Vatican, Dachau Concentration camp in Munich, Berlin Wall in the city by same name, Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart, Hofburg Palace in Vienna, the ‘Rockstar’ bridge in Prague, Canals in Amsterdam, laid back life in Spain, and massive splurge in Monte-Carlo, Monaco, among other places. Sky-diving in Seville, Spain, was another memorable experience. The adrenaline rush of a free fall and the view of the land beneath were exceptional.
During our trips, we stayed in hostels, which are comparatively pocket-friendly and form an essential part of a backpacker’s travelling expedition across Europe. The hostels have a very charged environment, where one ends up interacting with a lot of people and making a lot of friends. There were a few ups and downs during the trips as well, such as searching for hostel at 1 AM in a completely new country, spending the night at train station in sub-zero temperatures, missing trains a lot of times, etc., which only helped in making us more experienced. Overall, this was by far, the best trip I have ever had. I have learnt a lot more through the experience than I would have through books.
With ‘ghar-ka-khana’ craving taste buds, lots of memories to cherish and tons of stories for our Grandkids, we finally returned to our motherland.
This article is written by Vikas Prakash Singh of PGP 2012-14. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org