From Vijayawada, India, Murali Kondaru (Class of 2021) left India for the first time to attend Darden, where he serves as the president of the Darden South Asia Society (DSAS) and Darden Dance Club. Murali shared his thoughts on cultural diversity, his hopes for DSAS, his favorite experiences at Darden and his advice for future Darden students below:
Please tell us a little bit about your background. What led you to attend Darden?
My undergraduate degree from VIT University is in mechanical engineering. After graduating from undergrad, I worked for four years researching cutting-edge technologies in the farm equipment and automotive sectors, including electric and autonomous cars. As an engineer, I am familiar with product manufacturing, but I wanted to learn more about the efforts that go into building a sustainable business around products, which is what led me to pursue an MBA. Darden attracted me for three main reasons:
1. The close-knit community and collaborative culture at Darden, which I did not find in many business schools in the U.S.;
2. The case method, which resonated well with my desire to learn through experience and experimentation; and,
3. The small college town setting of Charlottesville, which I preferred over a big city.
How did you get involved in Darden South Asia Society (DSAS)? What was your favorite part about DSAS last year?
DSAS was proactive in creating a home away from home for incoming First Year students from South Asia. Moving to Charlottesville to attend Darden was the first time in my life that I left India, and I was anxious about living in the U.S., as I had no knowledge of the cultural practices here. DSAS provided me with a family who guided me through the transition.
My favorite part about DSAS is the diversity in community. While it is an affinity club focused on the South Asian region, 30 percent of the members are not of South Asian origin. The club not only helped me build strong bonds in the Darden community but also enabled me to learn about other cultures.
What led you to run for president of this club at the end of your First Year?
DSAS is a society that will always be close to my heart. There are three reasons why I sought a leadership role within the club:
- I want to contribute actively to the South Asian community at Darden, create a home away from home and ensure that there is resilience at all times within the community.
- I have an introverted personality, but I want to build relationships and learn from other people. I usually force myself into responsibilities that will make me extroverted, and this is just one example of that. Since I want to build relationships with all the wonderful and talented people around me, I believe a leadership role will help me connect with them more frequently.
- I love the diverse cultures in South Asia and want to promote DSAS as not just an affinity club for South Asian students but also a platform for students of other cultures to learn about South Asia and its many subcultures.
What are your hopes for the club this year? Given the uncertainty of how long the pandemic will last, how do you envision adapting club events?
I hope to create a strong emphasis on making DSAS a family away from home for the South Asian community, with an equal emphasis on creating a South Asian cultural experience for people from all other nations represented at Darden. We know everyone likes butter chicken and chicken tikka masala, so it is time to try some other great parts of our culture, too!
The pandemic is of course a major setback for our plans for this fall. However, we decided to see this as an opportunity rather than a barrier in creating the experience we planned for the Darden community. Limited in-person events give us the opportunity to think out of the box and plan fun virtual events. The DSAS leadership team is confident that we can create enjoyable and representative cultural experiences for the community despite the circumstances.
Why do you believe promoting South Asian culture and cultural diversity is important from a business standpoint?
Excellent question – I see the importance of promoting South Asian culture in two primary ways:
- With the increasing emphasis on cultural diversity in the workplace, I believe it is important for all of us to learn about different cultures to have healthy relationships in the work environment. The U.S. is a land of opportunities and South Asians currently make up one of the major immigrant populations in the U.S, and have for decades. Thus, I believe it is important for all business students to learn and embrace the cultural diversity to make better business decisions in the future.
- South Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in technology and innovation. Rapid growth in any sector creates attractive business opportunities, and technology businesses that have experience with South Asian culture are more likely to succeed in pursuing these new business opportunities within the region.
How has your global experience at Darden affected your outlook on business or your plans for the future?
At Darden, I began to learn how cultural differences provide a unique business advantage as well as impact team cohesion in a workplace. Thinking ahead, I would like to go back to India to develop the food and agriculture sector since there are major inefficiencies in the space. However, my time with the global community at Darden showed me other problems faced by nations all around the world, opening up my mind to think about the opportunities where I can create the most impact across nations.
What has been your favorite experience at Darden so far?
My favorite part about Darden is the interest and enthusiasm everyone has for learning about each other and embracing the diversity among us. I love when my American friends ask me for suggestions on good South Asian movies to watch or the recipe for butter chicken. The Diwali celebration is another favorite Darden memory, when everyone was grooving to Bollywood music and learning the “thumka”, a popular Bollywood dance move.
What advice do you have for future Darden students?
Acknowledge our differences and embrace the diversity. You have much more to learn from each other than the books (and cases) in front of you. The truly global community at Darden will take you on a world tour in two short years – an experience you would be hard-pressed to find in any other setting.
Stay resilient in these tough times. We are all in this together. You are part of the large Darden family the day you start your school and remember that everyone at Darden is eagerly ready to help if you ask for it. Darden always has something more to offer, so make the most of your two years here!