Born and raised in India until a bit past my teenage years, I came to the Cleveland area (Kent State) to go to graduate school. Kent State was one of four US schools that gave me money and admission to the MBA program – others including some Ivy’s (e.g., Harvard and Wharton) just gave me admission. Besides, the KSU bulletin available to me in New Delhi at that time (1968) showed a beautiful pastoral campus and claimed it was located on the banks of the beautiful Cuyahoga River (it caught fire in 1969, the year after I arrived)!
My childhood in India was a bit unusual in that I grew up in many different cities in Northern and Western India (my engineer father used to run newly built telephone exchanges till the technical bugs were out). Because of linguistic and cultural differences in these towns, my sister and I were home schooled for a time. By the time I reached high school, we had fortunately settled in New Delhi where I also graduated from the famous IIT.
My initial thoughts about the US were that it was a great place to get a graduate business education and some business work experience before I go back and rejoin our family business. For a number of reasons, that plan did not work out – I ended up staying in the US and making a life here. That was very challenging in the beginning.
In the late 1960s, India was a very poor country and in those days, most of us from India arrived with $8 (officially) and a few more dollars (about a $100 in my case) acquired from friends or family or purchased through the black market. In addition, I did have a half assistant ship from KSU. So, one major initial challenge was economic – there were periods when I literally did not have money for food. The second challenge was cultural – I was a stranger in a strange land! The third was linguistic – while I spoke English, my phrases, idioms, accent, and behavior were not at all American. While I fit-in a bit better now, but as they say “you can take the boy out of India, but can’t take India out of the boy”. My family and I continue to celebrate major Indian holidays, and in general, I am proud that I have been able to carry on most of our family traditions.
While it has not all been smooth sailing (after-all my culture and skin color is not consistent with the majority here), over the last 48 years that I have been in the US, I have been extraordinarily fortunate (e.g., even though I could not attend Harvard as a student, I did teach there as a professor). I have been a US citizen since before then 1980s and the Cleveland area has given me many professional and personal opportunities becoming my home town. I recently retired from full time work as an academic/business person and now I have three part-time jobs – as one of them I now work with some Cleveland area companies and civic organizations (with some of them on their boards of directors).
Having spent time in other cities all over the world (from few days to a year or so not counting US or Indian cities), I can say with certainty that Cleveland is a great bargain! The cost of living here is one of the lowest in the world especially when one accounts for the Cleveland area’s cultural and natural assets (no, I am not talking about our weather). It continues to be a great place to raise a family and I am so very glad our daughter grew up here.
Further, Cleveland is mostly a very friendly and accepting city. The kindnesses extended to me by many Cleveland-based strangers, acquaintances, and friends are just too numerous and frequent to mention. As a 2004 graduate of Leadership Cleveland, I know we are a strong city but we still have a lot of challenges and I am trying to do my part to help solve them. Cleveland is clearly a place that has accepted me as a part of the civic fabric even though I still look strange and talk funny.
Because of advanced communication technologies and global exchange of goods and services, distances are shrinking. Global markets are vitally important for our companies and our region. International trade and investment is not a zero-sum game, they actually create new wealth! To engage in such activities successfully, we need to have open minds and cross-cultural competencies.
In building such competencies, like learning to play tennis, book study only scratches the surface. Building cross-cultural competencies is essentially an experiential process. One way to do this is to travel to various overseas cultures and interact with them, but is much more convenient to do the same in your own city. So, it is important that we continue to welcome people from other countries and cultures to Cleveland. Besides, immigrants are known to bring economic vitality and entrepreneurship to their communities. I am so glad that organizations like Global Cleveland and the Cleveland Council on World Affairs facilitate cross-cultural interactions in our area.