Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hyderabad- A Home Away From Home

On the Yacht
Goodbye from me until mid-September.  I’ve been asked to go to Washington for a five week assignment, and will take a little time off while I’m in North America, so I won’t be in Hyderabad for some time.  While I’m away, my colleagues will serve as “guest bloggers” to keep this blog alive. 

I have mixed feelings about such a long period away from my Hyderabad home.  I look forward to spending some time in the U.S., and getting a feel for the difficult political and economic environment I’ve been reading about in the press.  I’ll be seeing family and catching up with some old friends, although this trip is much more work than vacation.  But I know I’ll be more than ready to get back six weeks from now.

I certainly don’t feel I need to get away to find recreational opportunities.  I’m a dedicated golfer, and Hyderabad is blessed with some excellent golf courses and a very congenial community of golfers.  I know many people view golf as an elitist activity, and racquet sports enthusiasts often tell me they think golf is for old people.  I love golf, though, and think it has some unique advantages.  Although golfers participate in competitions where winners are identified, golf is really about competing with yourself, and trying to achieve the best score your skill allows.  It’s a game that men and women can play together, and relative beginners, as soon as they learn the rules and etiquette, can play with experienced golfers without affecting the latter’s enjoyment.  At both the clubs where I play there are excellent teachers and numerous aspiring junior golfers, so I’m sure golf has a great future here.

On July 9 I had a chance to sample another sport that a growing number of Hyderabadis are becoming passionate about: sailing.  I was invited by the yacht club of Hyderabad to participate in the Monsoon Regatta on Hussain Sagar.  It was inspiring seeing some 75 sailboats out on the lake when I arrived, with a junior race underway.  I was privileged to participate in the regatta alongside some of India’s most skilled sailors.  I’m afraid I wasn’t very helpful, but my boat managed to win the second celebrity race despite my getting in the way of the crew every time we shifted course.  If I didn’t already have an addiction to golf, I could certainly imagine becoming a dedicated sailor. 

I’m starting my trip in Vancouver, which the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) says is the world’s #1 most livable city.  I don’t think the EIU includes Hyderabad in its survey, but with a growing number of excellent golf courses, and a beautiful lake in the middle of the city (which HMDA is working assiduously to make clean), Hyderabad is surely climbing by any measure of livability.

So, goodbye, Hyderabadis! I’ll be back in September.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Student Ambassadors

I had a great meeting the other day with two young women who had just completed their second year of undergraduate education and were taking part in an internship at the Centre for People with Disabilities-Livelihoods organized by their college, Cornell University.  They were extremely enthusiastic about their experience in Mysore and Hyderabad.  They told me they felt awed by the rich cultural heritage of southern India and were grateful for the warm welcome they have received by Indians.  They embraced their experience of India: they came to the Consulate where cotton shawls and skirts they bought in Mysore, and told me they have discovered a new favorite food during their visit: double ka meetha.  As I listened to their enthusiastic account of their internship, I was struck by what a favorable impression of the U.S. they must be making on those they meet in India, and by how they would become “ambassadors” for India after they return back to the U.S., sharing information about their great experiences. 

A group of about 20 students will be arriving from the U.S. next week to participate in the University of Hyderabad’s Study in India Program for a semester.  My experience of a previous batch tells me that these students too will be effective bridge-builders across the cultural divide between the U.S. and India.  In addition to their academic studies, they’ll also be learning about Andhra Pradesh’s artistic heritage as they learn to perform kuchipudi dance and play the sitar.  They’ll take an appreciation for all things Indian back with them when they return to the U.S., and share it with their friends and family.

While all these American students help us achieve our fundamental goal of strengthening the people-to-people ties that provide a foundation for the U.S.-India bilateral relationships, the U.S. government doesn’t have anything to do with their decisions to come to India or their plans.  We take the initiative in the opposite direction.  At the Consulate, we actively look for opportunities to send young Indians to the U.S. to promote mutual understanding.  The ten or so community college students we can support are a tiny fraction of the many Indians who pursue higher education in the U.S., but we try to identify deserving students who would not otherwise have a chance to experience the U.S.  The programs we send them on include academic study, but they are not focused on acquisition of a degree.  Instead, we hope to widen the horizons and build the confidence of these students, along with helping them acquire classroom knowledge.  Students who returned to Hyderabad this summer after spending an academic year in the U.S. have said that the experience changed their lives. 
But these exchanges actually affect more people than the few who get to travel.  The students are Indian ambassadors while in the U.S., and when they return to India they help shatter misperceptions about the United States and the American people.  I’ve enjoyed meeting a number of returned and departing students in recent weeks and wish we could expand this program dramatically.
Of course I also love meeting young people because it helps keep me young.  I’m planning a trip out to Rajahmundry soon to visit universities and talk to students.  I can’t wait!