Renu Mehandru was in her mid-50s when she went to the US to get an MBA – because, really, age is just a number
Renu was not yet 16. There was a flurry of excitement at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, the posh Delhi girls’ school where she studied: some of the girls would be sent to America on an exchange programme for a year. Renu was selected.
But the Delhi of the early ’70s was conservative, and the only girl child in the family wasn’t allowed to go. Later, Renu found herself doing what most ‘convent-educated’ girls did: studying English Literature at Miranda House, Delhi University.
Around the same time, Gopal Mehandru, after his engineering, was supposed to go to the UK to study – but he couldn’t.
When the two married in 1977 – Renu was barely 20 then – they had a goal in common: to make sure their children studied abroad. Little did Renu know at the time that one day, in her 50s, she would make several trips to the United States over a period of three years and return with an MBA.
The years following the economic liberalisation of India, also witnessed a remarkable rise in the number of Indians going overseas for higher education. Delhi’s upper-middle classes wanted to study abroad – and as foreign universities began lobbying for international students, they could realise their dreams of becoming global citizens of the world.
In the early 90s, this trend was at a very nascent stage, and not yet pervasive. But Renu spent hours every day in the USIEF library on Hailey Road researching for all the possible US universities her son could apply to. “There was no Internet, mind you. Nobody knew how to apply, where to apply: I looked through so much material and contacted many universities!”
In two years, she had sent both her sons to college in America. And now, she was an expert at education in the United States. So Renu became a professional education consultant, guiding and counselling Indian students who wanted to study in the US.
A dream of your own
In 2002, on a business trip to Strayer University, which has several campuses across America, “I noticed students who were CEOs of companies, they were in their 30s and doing their MBA... and I was floored! What a beautiful system! In India, everything has an age limit!” Mehandru remembers wistfully thinking of her dream as a young girl.
“I told a colleague at Strayer that I had always wanted to study in the US, and she said, why don’t you?” The university waived 75 per cent of the fee because she worked with them, and she could take some of the courses online from India if she liked.
In 2006, Mehandru boarded a plane to attend her first class. She was a little apprehensive. But, “Age doesn’t matter in the US! Most people in my class were about half my age... but there was a gentleman who looked like he was in his sixties, but I’m not sure – nobody talks about your age there.”
She found it difficult to keep up in class, in the beginning. But in a way, it helped her make friends. “If it took them 15 minutes to do something, it took me half an hour. But they’d help me out – especially with math, which I was always bad at. My husband would tutor me as well,” she giggles.
Over three years, she’d spent half the time in America. She submitted her final assignment in 2009: a three-hour exam that she gave online from home. She finished it at one in the afternoon, and “my husband had booked a spa appointment at 2! I got a massage, a pedicure, a manicure and when I came out to the hotel lobby – I couldn’t believe it – my friends were there. We ate dinner together. They were all so proud of me!”
They went to Washington for her graduation, where for the first time in her life, she donned a blue gown and a matching square hat to receive her degree. Her entire family was there: her husband, their two sons and the daughters-in-law.
“It’s not as hard as it sounds – all you need is a four-year degree [Mehandru had done her BBM when her sons were younger], a reasonably good GMAT score and work experience – but age won’t be a hindrance,” she says.
It adds to your qualifications: “When I counsel students who want to study in the US now, I can tell them what it’s really like”. It gives you perspective: “Interacting with people from diverse cultures and countries makes you a better human being”. But more importantly, it was something Mehandru did for herself. Think about it: can anything in the world match the sense of achievement when you realise your childhood dream?
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From HT Brunch, February 22
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