NEXSTEP’s Abha Jaiswal speaks on her journey into the education space

At NEXSTEP, we facilitate experiential learning programs, both virtual and abroad, for students and interns. Our programs center on the APAC region, pairing students with global companies for life-changing internships.

NEXSTEP believes in immersive, on-the-ground learning experiences. We work to help integrate students in their new environments, supporting them throughout the experience with courses, information, certification and staff advice.

Abha Jaiswal, Resident Director in India for NEXSTEP and Experiential Learning Specialist, is a key part of this support network. Abha shares a passion for travel by leading NEXSTEP’s learning programs, both in-person and online, for tours, internships and study programs.

Abha’s career journey began in HR training and development. In the past, she held administrative management positions. Her career began to turn from corporate India towards education with her work for SRF Limited, where she was responsible for talent transformation. In this capacity, she worked in a learning and development role, training and consulting businesses and leadership professionals. 

“When I got the call from NEXSTEP,” she tells us, “it was an accidental project.” Despite her background experience leading educational tours, Abha was hesitant at first about her ability to fill the role. However, her fears were soon banished. “I took it as an opportunity to explore my own horizons and my limits, and then it went amazing. That helped me to understand what I actually wanted to do, because I had always wanted to get into a creative field where I could apply my mind.”

I love creating experiences for people, that’s my passion.” Abha is a people person, gaining satisfaction from creating experiences for people and always looking to broaden her horizons. Her past roles confined to a desk didn’t fulfill her interest in travel and desire to meet new people who share this passion. The role at NEXSTEP changed that. “You have to wait for years to get such an opportunity,” says Abha. It’s now been over four years and she couldn’t be happier with the work. “It has been an amazing journey,” Abha shares. “I love this work.”

NEXSTEP Abha Jaiswal

When she first started in the new role, she felt incredibly satisfied with the work. Abha describes herself as an avid traveler. She enjoys being able to experience new places as part of her work and the chance to introduce people to India “and its different aspects, whether those are professional, cultural or of daily life.”

“You don’t have limits here,” she says. “I love to do fieldwork. I love working with people rather than sitting in an air-conditioned room and doing everything virtually.” Whilst she recognizes the necessity of the virtual tours, her preference is for getting people on the ground. “Technology can’t replace the human touch.”

Abha believes that experiential learning is important for education as it provides additional value that students would not gain from classroom learning, such as real-life, hands-on experience, problem-solving, and working as a team. She shares that for “students today, with Covid and everything, there’s obviously a huge virtual and online work movement. Why [is everyone] such a big advocate of it? Students learn by experiencing. When you experience […] you don’t forget anything.”

She sees the benefits and potential lessons of experiential learning extending far beyond the subject matter. “It gives you so much more than you would get from online. [There is] an inside element, a cultural side of experiential learning. It makes a mark on your personality and it helps you grow in a different way.”

Experiential learning also helps the students bond. The connections that they forge between each other and with people abroad can last for lifetimes. There is a real sense of connection and of being a team amongst the group. In our increasingly globalized society, forming genuine connections across the world is incredibly important.

NEXSTEP Abha Jaiswal

Despite the joys of directing the program, the position is not without its share of challenges. “I think every day is a challenge for us,” says Abha. Some of the basic challenges include practical challenges like hotel and transportation issues. Bigger challenges can include the punctuality of students, as well as their behavior on the ground and whether or not they adapt to their host culture and program in a respectful way. “Sometimes,” says Abha, “[there is] awkward behavior, but it always feels good when you are able to overcome these challenges.”

“I’ve spoken to a lot of students who are from relatively remote parts of the US and have gone to Thailand, for example. [They are] absolutely blown away just by how different the country is, the culture is, the people are. That’s obviously quite a transition, especially when you’re younger.” NEXSTEP tries to prepare students for what to expect on the ground ahead of time to help mitigate the culture shock. It helps if they know what the experience will actually be like, “because if something happens, we have to be responsible enough to handle that.”

So far, she hasn’t witnessed cultural issues as the students adapt to their new environment in India, thankfully. “Students who come to India have been very respectful of the culture, so we’ve never faced any issues. I think they are quite sensitive as well about culture differences.”

As far as preparing the students ahead of time, Abha says that it comes down to “sharing important things about the culture. I think the cultural exposure, and giving them some of the important points which they need to follow [can help them feel that] that’s enough, [that they’re ready to] handle this.”

In terms of the values that she hopes the NEXSTEP experience instills in students, Abha highlights professional respect and a realistic view of the world. “Students are coming with an objective of understanding business in India and how things work in India. My objective is that this hope needs to be fulfilled.” She also hopes that they leave their experience with a positive view of India. “I want them to understand the culture, to know what India is, so that when they go back they’re able to tell others as well. They are kind of ambassadors for us.” Although nothing is perfect, her goal is to support the students in their time in India so that they leave with positive memories.

Abha’s passion for her work is clear. As far as inspiration, despite the challenges, she says simply that “It’s just love for my work. I love doing it. I love traveling, experiencing things, giving to others. I’m able to connect [with them] because I’m an experiential learner myself. It drives me and helps me welcome all the challenges. And, of course, the support from the team is always there, [too].”

There are many moments that stand out to Abha in the course of her time as Resident Director. A moment where she felt special pride was watching students depart after their time in India. “It was a very emotional moment. The professor and one or two students, they actually cried, they became so emotional, and they didn’t want to go.” This demonstrates how deep of a relationship the program built amongst participants in fifteen short days. “[Students] come here for a professional visit, but they create very personal relations; I think that’s the best thing that you can ask for.”

As far as the future is concerned, Abha says that she feels “NEXSTEP is doing great work, and I’m literally proud of being a part of the NEXSTEP Connections team.” She thoroughly enjoys the role and says, “I hope to work with them forever.” She says she plans to expand the business in India, as there are a lot of opportunities. “I’m very hopeful,” says Abha. “I think in the coming years we will definitely expand and strengthen our position in India.”

Overall, the time in India with NEXSTEP is transformative for students. When they start the program, students are alone, but they quickly form a team, “experiencing things together, understanding that they have a common interest point amongst themselves. They form a team among themselves.” When they leave the program, these connections remain. “You’re no longer unknown, you’re no longer a stranger. You are [part of] a team that may stay together forever.” It all comes down to common purpose and shared values through the experiences abroad.

“When students come to India, they have a very different picture of India [than reality]. Of course there are a lot of problems in India which are well known across the world. But there are a lot of good things, too, which people generally don’t know when they come here. [Students come here and] they experience the culture, the diversity, and the daily lives of people.” Their time is eye-opening, whether through connecting with staff members, experiencing the slums and understanding their place in India’s economy, or seeing from new points of view. “[NEXSTEP] changes people’s mindset, it changes people’s outlook. And it helps them to look at things through a different perspective. [All of this change] starts with the personal level, and then the professional change happens.”

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