Beena Khurana Promotes Cal Poly in India with President Armstrong

Beena Khurana, director of MBA programs, accompanied President Jeffrey Armstrong in January to promote Cal Poly and Orfalea College of Business Graduate Programs to Indian Universities and students. They met with the director and faculty of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi and the executive director and staff of the United States-India Education Foundation (USIEF) Delhi. Both directors were highly impressed with what Cal Poly has to offer. Associate Deans Sanjiv Jaggia and Kevin Lertwachara traveled to Delhi in March to follow up on the links forged by the president.

Khurana shares her perspective on traveling with President Armstrong and how the two experienced Indian culture together:

It’s not everyday one gets to travel with a relative stranger who is a university president.

In my mind, public figures tend to have IKEA personalities – flat, and largely two-dimensional. So when the opportunity to travel with President Armstrong to promote Cal Poly to Indian Universities and students arose, I wasn’t quite sure what the flat-pack would reveal.

From the first moment it was clear that President Armstrong is not an on-the-sidelines traveller. Upon checking into the hotel he promptly went and got a haircut and discovered one of the greatest joys of India. Haircuts you say? Yes haircuts. Why you ask? Well because they are accompanied with a head massage, ‘champi’. As he showed me his newly hand-trimmed hair, I couldn’t resist telling him that the English word for shampoo is actually derived from the Hindi word ‘champoo’ which describes the process of pressing and kneading the head in order to soothe and relieve stress.

At our first meal together he completely trusted me with selecting what we would eat. Upon ascertaining his constraints, I ordered gosht (lamb), whole moong dal (lentils, slow cooked and rustic) alloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower) along with an assortment of roti (bread). He admired the ‘rumali’ roti; its thinness is legendary and its name literally means ‘handkerchief’. He ate heartily all the while enquiring about the flavors, seasoning, cooking methods and the etiquette of gift giving in India.

The man is without a doubt curious and open to experience. We finished on a signature North Indian dessert – kulfi falooda (Indian ice cream with rose flavored vermicelli). The dish arrived. The President took one look at the noodles and expressed surprise, while reaching for his spoon. He recognized the ‘push out of comfort zone’ moment but that didn’t stop him from embracing it. He ended up loving the dessert and ordering it on subsequent occasions, much to the delight of waiters. A traveller who knows and appreciates the local food is always welcome, especially so in India.

President Armstrong in IndiaPresident Armstrong has a good phonological loop (aka ear). He picks up foreign words easily and quickly puts them to use. ‘Acha’ (which means: fine, good, yes, okay, alright), ‘namaste’ (hello, goodbye) and ‘shukria’ (thank you) were among the first additions. Hotel staff, doormen (there weren’t any women ushering us in and out of buildings) and drivers alike were charmed that he peppered conversations with Hindi words. My favorite outing with him was to Bangla Sahib, a gurudwara (temple) of the Sikh faith. When we visited the kitchen I introduced him to the concept of langar (kitchen, where food is prepared and served free of charge to anyone who stops by, regardless of who they are). Bangla Sahib feeds over 20,000 visitors daily. A couple of cooking stations in, and he had taken on board the essence of Sikhism – ‘seva’ (selfless service). So when the opportunity arose, he contributed by flipping rotis on a huge skillet. I now know that our President doesn’t simply talk about Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing philosophy.

And so it came to pass that I became acquainted with President Armstrong’s wellspring of cultural intelligence. Our world today is increasingly diverse. In the smorgasbord of individuals, organizations and nations that we deal with, some of us flourish more so than others. Initially such success was ascribed to a greater intelligence quotient (IQ) and then later to a combination of IQ and emotional intelligence (EQ). However there is a new kid on the block. It is an altogether different intelligence, one that underlies the ability to function effectively in culturally diverse situations – cultural intelligence (CQ). CQ represents the ability to grasp and reason correctly in situations characterized by cultural diversity. Individuals with high CQ are effective not only in facing cross-cultural challenges, but also, and perhaps more importantly, in perceiving and learning from cross-cultural opportunities.