Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dealing with Cultural Diversity !

I am feeling happy and contended. It was about a month back when I was told that Students from the Slovak University of Agriculture Nitra will be visiting the University as part of the Student and Faculty Exchange program . The highlight of the visit was that they would be studying the course of Corporate Social Responsibility , Human Values and Ethics which coincidentally is being taught by me. Since it was a short visit for about 15 days ,I was joined by another colleague to deliver the lectures and cover the course meant for four months( with 4 hours per week of teaching ) in two weeks ( with 20 hours per week of teaching followed by Class Test and a Comprehensive End Term Examination ).

The task was challenging , compounded by the fact that students came from different disciplines comprising of Molecular Biology , Landscape Engineering, Economics and Management, Production Engineering etc. Some were Graduate students and others were pursuing Doctoral program. The course content in itself is rather ambitious in terms of the aspects it covers ; from spirituality to sustainability, ethics to environment conservation principles, corruption to Intellectual Property Rights Protection.., advertising to internet crimes to give a small illustration !

Day one began with learning about the participants followed by teaching the value of Human Values! It was a proud moment to share with them the fact that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR )has been an integral part of corporate history  of India. Way back in 1904 Jamsetji Tata had a vision to play a leading role in nation-building laying its foundation in 1868, creating India’s first Indian-owned steel plant and developing the township of Jamshedpur ; an example of a company more engaged in the life of the community than many of its western competitors !CSR as a part of strategy is relatively a new concept in Slovakia, I was told.

Yet another issue where we seem to have different perspective is about the significance of afirmative action as part of the social justice system.While political parties and judiciary in India has endorsed affirmative action in the form of quota in education and job , apparently it is illegal there, The argument was that it hampers efficiency and growth. Besides if the government offers subsidy to corporations that employ disadvantaged groups it will be at the expense of taxpayers money which should instead be invested on augmenting overall health and education system etc.Rather convincing arguments!

Arguments took a back seat though as we celebrated the festival of Holi. The Slovak students sang Rang Barse Bheege Chunar Wali and gave us glimpse of their Folk Dance as well. Unfortunately what we offered to them in the name of fusion was Bollywood crap. The difficult moment was when I was confronted with a question as to why one of the girls from Slovakia was asked to dance with another girl in a Discotheque they visited.She said in their country it is considered strange if boys dance with boys and girls with girls .Okashii desu ne is what my Japanese friends would also say ! The fact was that the Slovak girl was very pretty and one of the young married boy wanted to dance with her . His wife got annoyed and in order to pacify her he made Eva, the Slovak girl dance with his wife ,

 But more than teaching , it proved out to be learning experience for me.While it made me learn to accept diversity of culture , I also identified that the core values of love, care, warmth and friendship are universal   which made us connect cutting across the geographical boundaries. So I am looking forward to more such programs.