STEP Reflection Prompts
Name: Phil Koch
Type of Project: International Internship
- Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.
I was a Global Markets intern at the National Bank of Abu Dhabi in Mumbai. I worked primarily with the Head of Strategy and the Executive Director of Global Markets to help craft existing client profiles and target new clients operating within India and the GCC region. An NDA prohibits me from disclosing any particulars.
- What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.
Before this trip, I had traveled quite extensively having been to fifteen countries on four continents. In Asia I had experienced the wonders of Japan, China and Turkey but had not experienced Southern Asia. When I traveled to China in 2013 I saw both extreme poverty and exceeding wealth. When I left for India I believed the gravity of this dichotomy could not be shattered, but I was incorrect. I was under the impression that the living conditions/poverty I viewed while in central China would be close to a one to one comparison with what I saw in Mumbai. Deeply impoverished areas are not relegated to rural locations as they are in many other areas around the world. In India as a whole and in Mumbai alone, millions of people live in extreme poverty with little more than some shoes and a lean-to shelter. I found that my assumptions about the disparity of income/wealth levels were largely understated.
- What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.
As I mentioned previously, I am now acutely aware of the conditions and differences in income that exist between different groups in Mumbai. I acquired this knowledge through firsthand exposure to the described areas including most notably, Dharavi (one of the largest “slums” in Asia). As we made our approach into Mumbai the first signs of the sprawling sub city could be seen (Mumbai airport is 100m at most from the edge of this area). Under the cover of darkness, I was able to make out a sea of small structures constructed out of scrap metal overlaid with blue tarps acting as roofs, this seemed to go on for many miles. This brief glance from the air was my first look into the living conditions of the urban poor and into India as a whole, as it was the first thing I saw after departing NYC. This nighttime image of thousands of these structures, each a bit different set over a slightly rolling hill down towards the ocean, stuck with me long after I disembarked from my seat and entered India.
Within our first week in India, we (the group of interns at NBAD) had traversed much of Mumbai from the glittering streets of Lower Parel and Colaba to the bustling Dharavi and Kurla. I was able to explore Kurla (an impoverished suburb of Mumbai where we stayed for about one week of our experience) within the first twelve hours of arrival apart from the group. This was a truly enriching experience as I was able to explore at my own pace and experience all the new sights, sounds and of course smells of India. As I stepped out on my first early morning walk, the temperature was a balmy 95 Fahrenheit and at this point I knew I was definitely in India. Even at this early hour the streets of Kurla were bustling with traders selling their wares, goats and cows walking aimlessly and an innumerable number of motorcycles and rickshaws zipping by darting in and out of traffic. On the fringes of the commotion were people actually living their daily lives (washing clothes in the street, milking goats, bathing and preparing their modest corner shops for the day. In China I had seen similar activities but it was always from a car. I was never able to experience these activities first hand as I was during this particular morning. My trip was truly a “live like a local” and obtain the true sights, constant sounds and horrible smells of bustling Mumbai type of trip. I truly enjoyed it because it gave me a vibrant picture of what daily life is actually like and not a sanitized tourist version of the real thing. On this morning it was only me and the hustle and bustle of the early morning city, nothing else.
I spoke earlier about Dharavi and my initial assumptions from approach into Mumbai about its endless nature and basic conditions. My first weekend in Mumbai I ventured into this area to gain a true perspective of poverty in India. Although poverty exists at many levels through almost all of India, the extremity and depth of abject poverty is wholly encompassing in Dharavi. When you walk through the crowded alleyways of Dharavi you are deeply saddened by things like the lack of running water and sewage, electricity and other basic living standards that we often take for granted in the U.S. Many times I saw kids playing in piles of trash similar to Slumdog Millionaire which was absolutely jarring. I did not take any pictures of Kurla or Dharavi because it is rude to impede on people’s homes like this, however, images of these areas are freely available on Google.
Lastly, what many people often underscore in their perceived images of India, as did I is that of great wealth. Within Mumbai, I was exposed to some of the largest pockets of extreme wealth I have ever seen. In areas such as Colaba, Churchgate, Worli, Lower Parel, Bandra and Malabar Hill I saw everything from Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Chauffer Driven Rolls Royce’s (each worth 1 Million + with associated VAT) cursing through town to glittering malls filled with the most expensive brands brands I had ever seen (Rolex, Patek Phillipe, Mont Blanc, Prada, Canali etc). I spoke a great deal with both my boss and co-workers about the hugely unnecessary and extravagant $1 Billion personal residence erected in Mumbai by Mukesh Ambani, the wealthiest person in India. I bring these things up because although India is still very such a developing country and many of its residents live in poverty, the entire country cannot be generalized as poor.
- Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.
Becoming aware of the living conditions was not an overarching goal I had in mind before coming to India. However, within my first hour on the ground I felt it was necessary to truly experience both sides of the spectrum in Mumbai to see how both the few and the many live and note the differences between each. My time in Mumbai was transformative because as I was able to see poverty and extremely poor living conditions that do not exist on a large scale in the United States. Through these experiences I also determined the dichotomy of living conditions between the rich and poor is immensely larger than that of the U.S. as even many of the impoverished in the U.S. can gain assistance from social welfare programs and NGO’s, these are not widely available in India. This helped me put my life in perspective and be truly grateful for what I have at home and in life. I am someone who is always looking for the next best thing and striving for it. Whether that is starting a business or competing for the top position, I am always striving to do more and have more, but at the end of the day when you look at the world as a whole and how billions of people live, obtaining more doesn’t really matter.
This experience while extremely helpful in guiding me on a career path, was perhaps more helpful outside of work. It gave me a heightened appreciation for the U.S. as I often take what we have for granted. If it’s clean drinking water, running water/sewage, stable electricity or clean air/streets I often do not think it is as much of a luxury as it is. Through my time in India as well as China, I have seen first-hand that billions of people live without these services and living conditions we are so accustomed to. It is important to keep this in mind and for me to be thankful I live in a country like the United States.