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Meet our Counterpart in India!

By March 31, 2010November 14th, 20124 Comments

After a hyper-challenging journey to India a few weeks ago I arrived in Bangalore to meet up with my the staff from my counterpart, an amazing company called Athiya. As Highroad Global Services is in the business of building effective operations between the US and India, we spent years choosing an associate we could trust to serve alongside us.

In this post we would like you to meet Athiya Director of Learning and Development Chitralekha Narayan as she answers our questions! Read on to find out the most common misconceptions about each country and much more.

Vicki: Tell me a little about how Athiya got started.

Chitra: Athiya was started in 2004. It was my brainchild. For ten years before this happened, I’d been heading the Learning and Development (L&D) department of various MNCs and I found that the training companies who supported an organization’s L&D deliverables just didn’t have high enough quality. They simply didn’t understand in-depth the pain points of organizations or what a company looks for when it works with a training partner.  There wasn’t enough customization either. Hence, I thought given my experience and the fact that I’d been on the other side, Athiya is able to work closely and sincerely with companies to fulfill and exceed their expectations as far as training initiatives go.

Vicki: What does “Athiya” mean and what sets the company apart from others?

Chitra: ‘Athiya’ is a Sanskrit word. It means ‘excellence.’ Our company logo is ‘Enhancing Excellence.’ We believe that every individual already has the potential to be an excellent corporate citizen. Hence, we don’t believe that one needs to start from scratch. Athiya is unique in many ways. For one, our training team is completely in-house. We believe that an Athiyan brings with her/him a sense of permanence and dedication to the client.

Secondly, all Athiyans come with industry experience, so we understand the business point of view; we can turn techniques and theories to practical tips, and the best is that we consider ourselves ‘facilitators’ – we believe in tapping the collective wisdom and experience of a group so people go away with tools that they can apply in their workplace right away.

Another aspect of our uniqueness is the fact that we are extremely process- driven. Our instructional design has a well-laid out roadmap. Our evaluation processes are highly appreciated by our clients; in fact, some of our clients have borrowed our evaluation methodology for their own use!! We have regular knowledge transfer sessions.

Vicki: How did you get into this particular field of training?

Chitra: I just stumbled upon it. As a kid, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. That’s all the game I’d play all the time as a little girl. I started off my career as a school teacher in the Middle East but it was when I was living in Hong Kong that I really began training adults. It was to do with English Language training, communication skills for executives, and interviewee skills. I really fell in love with this work and decided this is what I’d do all my life. So, here I am.

Vicki: What are some of the major misconceptions Americans have about Indians?

Chitra: That all Indians are poor. That elephants roam around our streets. That we live in huge joint families. That all Indians are Hindus. That all of us wear religious marks on our forehead. That there are half – naked fakirs on the streets who can do the Indian Rope trick. That there are snake charmers aplenty!!

Vicki What are some of the major misconceptions Indians have about Americans?

Chitra: That American women have no morals and are “available.” That Americans are aggressive. That all Americans are rich. That all Americans just spend the day lolling around, are all beautiful / handsome and live the lives of princesses and princes. That Americans are not hospitable. That all American marriages end in divorce.

Vicki: Could you tell us some of the techniques you use to bridge the culture gap between two countries?

Chitra: One of the techniques that we do is to really get people to define their own culture. It’s a real eye-opener for many. You know, because our culture is so rich and varied, we all tend to carry a hazy vision / notion of our culture. But when you ask a group, ‘What will you tell an American colleague visiting India for the first time about India?’ it’s then that they start thinking – they give you a list of ‘do’s & don’ts’; they explore Indian values and their own behaviors….and once they get a clear identity about themselves, we have a discussion to identify at which points does the American differ.

For example, let’s take the notion of ‘hospitality.’ For an Indian, it means a guest has to be pampered; that the host must constantly ‘fuss’ over his guest. On the other hand, for the American, ‘hospitality’ simply means involving the guest in his own activities – such as helping with the dishes or making a sandwich for himself or opening the fridge and helping himself to soda or whatever.

A second technique is an in-depth exploration of stereotypes. We use videos and group discussions in this section and help people realize that a lot of their perceptions are ‘media-fed’ and ‘biased’ and therefore not necessarily true.

Sometimes, we tend to use visiting expat associates (like you) to help build these bridges.

At the end of a workshop, people realize that the ‘definition’ and ‘intensity’ of a value differs from culture to culture. For example, all cultures have values such as ‘honesty,’ ‘common sense,’ ‘heroism,’ ‘courage,’ etc. It’s just that based on the cultural evolution, the bandwidth of each differs.

Vicki: What do you like the most about American business culture?

Chitra: Their sense of time, honesty and forthrightness, the absence of hierarchy, the aspects of fair play and merit and the ‘purposefulness’ to all things.

Vicki: What has been the most difficult training situation that you have had to deal with and what did you do to resolve it?

I was once doing a 2-day workshop on ‘Business English Skills’ for a group of technology workers. There was one participant who just didn’t want to go with the flow of the sessions. He was a heckler. No amount of adult-learning techniques helped; his colleagues efforts to quiet him down didn’t help either. Finally, I had to get the manager in who chatted with the entire group and suggested that any one not interested in the workshop can leave and voila, the heckler left. There was a collective sigh of relief from the group and we made great progress afterward. It took tremendous energy, patience, and willpower for me to hang in there.

Vicki: What lies in the future for the Athiya-Highroad collaboration?

Chitra: I think it’s going to be great. We can strengthen our collective efforts in building a corporate culture bridge between India and USA but I’d really like for us to take it to the next level of building culture bridges across various countries, for example, China and India. I think we have a lot to contribute to making the ‘global village’ concept a reality. I see us doing webinars and initiating e-learning modules so that our knowledge and experience can be shared with everyone as fast as possible.

I also think there’s an urgent need for Indian students to experience these bridges. We’ve thousands of youngsters going abroad for higher studies and they go through cultural adaptation in a very painful manner – through sheer trial and error – and sometimes, they just don’t fit in at all. I see great potential for us in this area.

We will eventually make everyone ‘Athiya Highroaders’ – ‘excellent travelers.’

Vicki: Any parting thoughts?

Chitra: I’m glad our association has begun. Both our organizations share similar ideas, purposes, and mindsets. I think our clients will see the benefits of these similarities when we support them in their cross-cultural endeavors.

I think for the global traveler, it’s important to keep an open mind, to have an ability to suspend one’s cultural identity initially. A person must be able to observe and pick up general cultural aspects of the country she’s visiting so she can adapt herself more quickly and easily.

To learn more about Athiya, visit their website at

Vicki Flier Hudson

Vicki Flier Hudson, Chief Collaboration Officer for Highroad Global Services, Inc. inspires people to leverage the full power of differences. She has helped countless large-sized corporations establish successful operations across the globe and build bridges across cultures, distance, and time.


  • Donna Flier says:

    Vicki, what a fabulous collaboration this is! You asked very insightful questions, leading to pretty enlightening answers. Highroaders and Athiya are BOTH operations of Excellence!…together absolutely wonderful.

  • Peter Nguyen says:

    This is wonderful. Complementing and leveraging each other strenghts are the way of the future. This is the definition of true collaboration.

  • Thanks all! I am excited about the collaboration, especially because I have known this team for years. They do quality work and we have very aligned visions. I am already thinking of how I can get back to India to work with them! Keep your comments coming!

  • Laura says:

    “We will eventually make everyone ‘Athiya Highroaders’ – ‘excellent travelers.’” – I love that!

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