After her bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from the University of Pune in 1999, Manali Desai worked for a year in strategic sourcing in a company in India where, she says, she got interested in industrial engineering. Desai then applied for a Masters in operations engineering at the University of Michigan. Currently, an MBA candidate (class of 2011) at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, she speaks about her choice and experience:
I had a few cousins who’d studied in the US and they were a huge influence on and inspiration for me. My mother is a professor and dad, an avid learner. They both convinced me that American education was one of the best that money could offer in terms of exposing one to various ways of thinking and to the advancements that were taking place in many fields. My uncle and aunt lived close to Michigan, which had one of the best institutions for operations engineering. I took a close look at the ranking of the school and the programme I was going to take up there, employment opportunities after the programme and the support system available around me.
My Michigan experience was completely different from my Indian college. The Indian education system is based on lectures and theory and students are forced to study to pass the exams and not to acquire real knowledge. I never thought outside of what the textbook told me or nor did I ever fall in love with the subjects. Michigan was different. I attended classes because I felt I was learning something new every day — something that I loved and could apply in the real world.
Wharton is a different ball game. It’s about learning business concepts and creating business networks through learning about your classmates, their experiences and networking with them outside class. So overall it’s an experience geared to make you a strong business professional in all aspects — functional skills, leadership and teamwork, network and exposure to various cultures and opportunities.
Apart from studying, I dance, do yoga and travel around the world. At Wharton I’m president of the India Club. Also, as a leadership fellow at Wharton, I am
among a small group of selected students who act as mentors for the incoming first-year students.
I also lead the Wharton Community Consulting Club, which works on developing local non-profit organisations. I helped organise the Wharton India Economic Forum, one of the biggest student conferences in the US showcasing the growth and development taking place in India.
The upside of studying here is the quality of education that helps students become self aware and think about the world around them. It makes you cognisant of multiple perspectives and prepares you to work in organisations.
The negative side — many of us at some point turn homesick and find it difficult to visit home. The best way is to stay as connected as possible through the Internet and build a strong community here. US education is definitely expensive and leaves you saddled with a big loan.
Those contemplating enrolling with an American institution need to truly understand the reason for studying abroad — is it for a better education, the lifestyle or for personal reasons and apply accordingly. They should focus on applying to the highest ranked universities that they can get into as these not only provide better education but also present brighter employment and scholarship opportunities.
Nowadays student loans are easily available and students should not be burdened by them too much, as they can be easily repaid in a short time.
Overall, aspirants should be open to a diverse cultural experience and maximise their learning across education and lifestyle.
As told to Rahat Bano