Alok Raj has led a life sweeter than most — literally. He had a long stint as digital marketing manager with Perfetti Van Melle (PVM) — a market leader in the confectionery category in India. Some of the PVM brands include Chupa Chups, Mentos, Happydent, Alpenliebe, Smint, and so on. PVM is also a manufacturer and marketer of several high-quality products within the candy, chewing gum, lollipop and liquorice categories. Today, Raj is swapping sweets for an MBA. Once he finishes studying in the Netherlands at Nyenrode Business University, he plans to build a global career.
“I also want to continue my passion for travelling and learning about people and different cultures, all of which would expand my view about the world,” he tells us. Below we speak to him about his career and his studies abroad in the Netherlands:
What made you choose to be an MBA student studying in the Netherlands?
After extensive time researching my options, I felt like a full-time MBA programme at Nyenrode Business University was for me. This programme was a perfect match for my needs as it focuses on real-world international business practices and authentic leadership.
Exposure to C-level executives during the Global Immersion programme across various European countries is the key unique selling proposition that makes it very unique to any other business university in Europe. Studying in the Netherlands and at Nyenrode Business University gives me ample opportunity to leverage the larger and valuable network.
Besides studying in the Netherlands, what do you like most about the country?
The Netherlands is a beautiful country: windmills, cheese and tulips. It is the perfect blend of rich history and modernisation and a very practical country to live in. I like the mystical and artistic charm of the city, alongside the international atmosphere and diversity making me feel welcome. Almost everyone speaks English, and it’s the gateway to Europe because of its strategic location — an international hub for business and travel. I could be in key cities such as Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen or London in the snap of a finger.
Lastly, it has a very exciting and favourable job market for internationals, the inclusion is deeply ingrained in corporate culture. The Netherlands has a high standard of work ethics.
Tell us more about your career trajectory in bringing over brands like Chupa Chups to India?
I joined PVM in 2012 as a Digital Marketing Manager to lead various brand mandates on digital platforms. I thoroughly enjoyed working there as the team was very supportive and always enthusiastic about new ideas and experimenting. This in turn helped deliver some of the award-winning campaigns like the Mentos Riddle Campaign — an open challenge to Indian youth to solve a riddle and get the chance to win INR$2.5 million. I was super motivated to challenge myself and prepare for more responsibilities.
All this gave me experience in developing new products, defining value propositions, creating brand design, learning about supply chain and finance. It also added immense value to my learning curve and helped sharpen my strategic and commercial marketing skills. Within 18 months of its launch, Chupa Chups became the market leader in the lollipop industry and won two prestigious awards: the Effie Gold Awards and the Nielsen Breakthrough Superstar Award in 2019.
Besides studying in the Netherlands, what are your favourite non-academic experiences thus far?
The Volendam clog-making and cheese tasting have been my most memorable experiences in the Netherlands thus far. It introduced me to the quintessential cultural experience of making a wooden clog and making my own cheese.
Tell me about your hometown. If I came to visit you, where would you take me?
I was born and raised in Patna, the capital of Bihar in one of the Eastern states of India. Patna is an ancient city that sprawls along the South Bank of the Ganges River and one of the oldest inhabited places in the world that spans back to at least three millenia. Patna has the distinction of being associated with two of the most ancient religions of the world — Buddhism and Jainism. The city has a glorious past and perches on the briskness of a bustling and upcoming metropolis.
I would show you Gol Ghar, built for the British army in 1786 as a storehouse to keep grains, and resembles a beehive if you look at it from a distance. It also has a gorgeous view of the city and a serene view of the Ganges River. Next, I would take you to the Patna Museum, an architectural style that houses more than 45,000 artifacts and its prime attraction is 200 million years old — a fossilised tree which oozes mystery. Lastly, I bring you to Street Art, an ubiquitous painted wall across Patna that gives a pleasing and artistic feel of the city. Interesting fact: most of the paintings have been made by students learning Mithila/Madhubani Art that reflects the local culture and social practices.
Have you explored the Netherlands? What has stood out for you?
Since studying in the Netherlands since August 2019, the time to explore the country was limited as the overall programme is very intense. Then in 2020 due to the pandemic, the travel restrictions made it even more difficult to step out of Amsterdam. However, I managed to explore some of the adjoining cities like Utretcht, Haarlem, The Hague, Rotterdam and Maastricht. I loved Maastricht, it stood out for me because the city is blessed with beautiful medieval architecture, a lively atmosphere, and an amazing sense of multiculturalism given its close proximity to Belgium and Germany.
Is it hard for a foreigner to order food or strike up a conversation with the locals?
Not at all, there are tons of food delivery services that will bring your favourite meal to your doorstep. Additionally, Amsterdam offers plenty of international culinary experiences and has an overwhelming choice of restaurants catering to all tastes and budgets. As for conversations with locals, my experience has been good so far as Dutch people are very friendly. They are also open-minded, welcoming and never hesitate to help or engage with you on the streets. I trust a Dutchie to tell it like it is.
What cultural sites have you explored while studying in the Netherlands?
My favourites are Anne Frank’s House, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Royal Palace-Amsterdam. The Van Gogh Museum houses the largest collection of artworks by Vincent Van Gogh in the world, and as an avid history lover, I was intrigued by his post-impressionist work. There is so much to learn from his unconventional life and career.
What’s one thing from home you miss, and how do you substitute it?
I still can’t go a day without craving for home-cooked food, I miss the taste of desi food from India. Food in India is what brings families and friends from near and far together, it’s also a reminder of many moments of happiness and celebrations. I mostly satiate this craving by ordering my favourite dishes from local Indian restaurants here. My all-time favourite dishes are: chickpea curry, malai paneer and mutter mushrooms. Then the pandemic happened, and it forced me to pick up some culinary skills from online tutorials and start cooking at home.
What advice do you have for international students studying in the Netherlands?
I believe there isn’t a more exciting privilege in life than to be able to discover new places, meet new people and embrace yourself in traditions and cultures that are entirely different from your own. Whether it’s the prepared meals, freshly-pressed clothes or just having a shoulder to lean on, I am sure studying and living alone in another country teaches how important everyday things in life can be.
Now that I am living here for the last one and a half years, I totally recommend the choice I made. Here is some advice and personal experiences to help you gain some insights on studying in the Netherlands:
- The sky’s the limit, the Netherlands is a truly multicultural country. It will provide the perfect opportunity to learn new languages, pick up cultural nuances, build interpersonal skills and develop a sense of appreciation for individualism.
- Don’t overthink, living alone in another country isn’t easy and adapting to a new environment is harder. Witnessing culture shock can lead to anxiousness, the key is to be aware of these adjustments.
- Communicate but avoid exaggeration, the Dutch society believes in a high sense of ownership and respect for individual choices. It’s important to communicate about your needs or challenges. Stay humble and honest.
- Be consistent, managing life and studying can be quite the challenge. It’s essential to find a balance between the both, and being consistent towards a specific goal can help.
- Celebrate small wins, studying abroad can be demanding as courses are strenuous. So make sure you take the time to celebrate small moments during your journey.