When Molly Teas was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, she decided to see a bit of neighbouring India by train. Throughout the journey from Patna to Amritsar, not once did she turn a page in her paperback because she was fascinated by so many things—the amount of luggage people brought on board, the elaborate meals they’d prepared, and the immense curiosity of everyone who wanted to know all about America.
Teas has since visited India scores of times, most recently to promote the Passport to India programme in her capacity as senior advisor for education, US Department of State.
The initiative is part of a two-pronged strategy to further build Indo-US relations through people-to-people diplomacy, and equip the next generation of the American workforce with business language fluency in emerging markets. Toward this, the US Department of State is reaching out to partner with educational institutions and companies to promote study-abroad opportunities and internships.
The immediate milestone is modest—increase the number of American students in India from 3,384 as of 2011 to 15,000 in the next five years. By contrast, 104,000 Indians studied at US institutions last year.
Teas says India has always attracted a small band of Americans in the humanities, but there hasn’t been a concerted effort to offer opportunities in other disciplines.
“Religion and history are critically important. But Passport to India aims to broaden the menu of options. We want to make sure that students in schools of business, medicine, public health and other fields will put India front and centre,” she says.
The programme is funded entirely by the private sector. Some big names that have signed up include Infosys, Honeywell, Microsoft Research India (MSR India), Texas Instruments and Applied Materials. Existing internship programmes are listed by the US Department of State on Twitter and students can apply directly via the Passport to India Facebook page, a one-stop shop.
Nearly 70 domestic and international students work at Infosys each year under the company’s paid internship programme, which covers airfare and accommodation. “For most global corporations today, at least 60 percent of the revenue is coming from outside the US. One of the major markets is India,” says Kris Gopalakrishnan, co-chairman, Infosys. “This gives interns a perspective of working in a global company with headquarters in an emerging market.”
In a globalised workplace, context is king. That’s why Lenny An, who is pursing a master’s degree in engineering and technology innovation management at Carnegie Mellon University, says he came to India. An wants to build a career in innovating for the bottom of the pyramid. “This internship has really opened my eyes to different levels of innovation,” says An of his 11-week stint at Infosys.
(This story appears in the 14 September, 2012 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)