Other Side of the Cheese Grater

If you were to ask me to describe myself in one sentence, it’s a quote from comedian James Acaster: “I’m not a very adventurous person. I’ve only ever used one side of a cheese grater.” So, when offered the chance to travel across the world to India as part of the System Soft Technologies Cultural Exchange Program, it was decidedly not just the other side of the cheese grater. The offer was more like a rotary grater with a zester attachment, hand wash only, that sings a tune, while changing your car oil. One of the fancy ones, of course. After a week of the unknown, I was up at 4 a.m. preparing to board a 26-hour flight to India, with what would become three of my closest coworkers.

Travel Team Beta: (l to r) Andrew Vincent, Creative Director; Miles Bennett, Talent Acquisition Specialist; Liliana Torres Valencia, In-House Immigration Attorney; and Kerri Callahan, Office Manager and Executive Assistant to the CEO.

Upon arrival, an entourage of our coworkers warmly greeted our group, which I affectionately refer to as Travel Team Beta, with flowers and government officials. (We were gifted the flowers, not the officials, just to clarify.) Travel Team Beta spent the first day on a guided tour. We learned as much about Indian history as we could in a day. Specifically, about Hyderabad. It was nothing short of magical, beautiful, humbling and educational in the best way. From being pulled up on stage and interviewed on the spot with accomplished female doctors for International Women’s Day to experiencing local markets and learning what it truly means to be privileged, India blew our minds at every turn. Seriously, Travel Team Beta even got to ride elephants in India. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience seeing up close such intelligent, majestic animals.

Combined, the members of Travel Team Beta have worked at System Soft for 20 years. So, we never imagined that culture shock would be something we’d experience. But let me be the first to tell you: Traffic in India and traffic in the United States are two VERY DIFFERENT things. The honking, the driving, the lanes (or lack thereof) was nothing short of controlled chaos. After operating for several days out of our India office, face-to-face with our colleagues and employees, experiencing a culture and work ethic so very different from our own, Travel Team Beta had grown. We were sponges, soaking in all the knowledge we could to ensure we not only understood but followed the rules, cohesively and effectively working with our not-so-distant coworkers. This vastly improved communication and collaboration. It was a lot of work, and it wasn’t always easy. Yet, Travel Team Beta still found time to travel. We went to Jaipur and Agra. We encountered elephants, traversed forts, perused palaces, visited the Taj Mahal and even learned to haggle. Well, sort of. (Pro tip: Always start at half the price!)

System Soft’s first Cultural Exchange trip was both much too short and extremely long. Nothing could have prepared us for these moments. And honestly, going in blind might have been for the best. We had preconceived notions about India. But we had to give them all up and learn for ourselves what the country was really like. We were fortunate enough to navigate such an ethereal, yet daunting, experience together, with the help of colleagues—both American and Indian. We’re extremely thankful for the opportunity to travel, experience first-hand the culture of India, get closer to our System Soft family and return home with awe-inspiring memories that we will never forget!

About the Author: Kerri Callahan

Kerri is the Executive Assistant to the CEO and Office Manager at System Soft Technologies. With nearly 10 years experience in office and team management, she contributes to the collaborative, flexible and productive environment at System Soft. She looks to succeed no matter what the task and help others succeed, using communication and time management skills. She’s also an avid learner, making her experience in India her most exciting classroom yet.