This summer has been hands down one of the most memorable summers I’ve had. I was able to connect back to my roots and was able to land a volunteering position at an accounting and taxation clinic in India. Not only was this stretch experience a great learning experience for me in terms of learning about the accounting and taxation world, but it also pushed me to mature as an individual.
Prior to this summer, I had very little knowledge about the different components of accounting and taxation. As a finance student in the Alberta School of Business, I feel much more knowledgeable about the many different practices available within accounting and finance. My main tasks at the clinic involved preparing balance sheets, processing tax returns, evaluating profits and losses, as well as preparing financial reports. I also learned about the many different new taxation systems that were introduced in India over the past couple years (GST, CGST, IGST, UTGST) and some of them are also applicable in Canada.
One of the key initiatives I took part in during my stretch experience was the opportunity to educate the local community about the many different accounting and taxation services offered by the clinic I volunteered for. I went around the neighborhood, door-to-door and conducted a survey with local citizens. The purpose of this survey was twofold. Firstly, it allowed me to discover how citizens went about their accounting and taxation services and it allowed me to further educate them about what the clinic offered. It also helped the clinic as I was able to bring 25 new clients to the clinic and I performed their services for them. The survey conducted asked information regarding citizens’ annual income and how satisfied they were with the current accounting and taxation services they received, regardless of which clinic they went to. If determined that the household was a low-income family, I offered them the opportunity to come down to the clinic and have services provided by me at no cost for the first time.
This experience contained many challenges for me. Firstly, during the first two weeks, it was really hard for me to adapt to the environment. The daily temperature was 40 degrees Celsius at the minimum and the air quality was very humid. Coming from a place where we are used to colder weather, it really took me some time to adapt to the living standards. Additionally, the culture shock can make it difficult to adjust on vacation, let alone on a stretch assignment. Going from Alberta with a population of close to 4.1 million people you think you know a relatively large population. In Punjab the population was close to 28 million. Seeing that many people and adjusting to the bustling life in India taught me the value of being able to adapt. I knew right away that business in India would be different.
Every time we had a client come into the office, I was tasked with the responsibility of providing them with a glass of water and any other refreshments or food as per their desire. The culture in India and the customer service environment was different than how business is conducted in Canada. This showed me how much the clinic cared about their clients as they always want to keep them satisfied. All clients were to be treated with respect, as it was important to address them as sir or mam when speaking to them. Addressing someone older than you by their first name was definitely frowned upon. These cultural differences took time to become accustomed to. Doing little things like that really goes a long way in keeping loyal clients and it shows that you value your clients.
I was fortunate to work with an amazing staff at the office that really helped me understand the many different accounting and taxation work we dealt with. They guided me through the work for the first few weeks and were always available when I needed help or had any questions. Regardless of my challenges with speaking their native language, they were patient in teaching me the local way of doing things. It really showed me the importance of teamwork within an office setting and the value of learning customs of the place you are doing business in.
This was the first time that I had travelled alone and lived away from my family for two months. I learned about the importance of hard work and the struggle to maintain a balanced lifestyle. That was the most important learning experience to me as an individual as it really made me appreciate the little things in life. I was able to see how the living standards in India are much different than what we are normally used to in Canada and how fortunate I am to be living in a place where many services are provided to me without me having to go out of my way.
Furthermore, I now better appreciate the cultural differences that make doing business internationally challenging yet exciting. Better knowledge of cultures can help business students better adapt to the needs of international clientele. At the same time, it can make it easier to serve individuals when you take the time to live in their everyday environments.
By: Kartik Sharma