In early March, Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director was a guest on Wedo Talks by David Jaques. In this episode, Jennifer talks about the Authentic Journeys’ story from inception (2011) until today (2022).
Listen in or read the transcript below. Follow the transcript for links to other podcasts Jennifer Kumar has been a guest on over the years.
David: Hello and thank you for joining us. You’re listening to a Wedo talk with David Jaques.
Hi, welcome to this week’s Wedo Talk, one of the things we’re going to be talking about today is cross-cultural work environments. What it’s like to work in different countries, what it’s like to do business in different countries. The world has got progressively smaller in terms of communication and now through the means of video chat and other media. We’re able to do business with people, communicate with people very well across borders, across continents, even. So, I have a great guest here today who is not just an expert in cross-cultural work environments. She is the founder of her own company, Authentic Journeys. So I’m delighted to welcome Jennifer Kumar, who’s joining us today from Salt Lake City in Utah. So, Jennifer, very good afternoon to you. Thanks for joining us and welcome to Wedo.
Jennifer: Thanks for having me, David. This is great. Thanks so much. I’m excited.
David: And so, Jennifer, you have your own coaching business and you’ve done this in India and in the U.S. and you also have a background in social work and mental health advocacy for children and youth. So we’ll have to hear a little bit more about that. But I also think that you’re what I look at is a little bit of an unusual individual because the amount of people living in the U.S. of Indian heritage is a very large number of people. There’s a significant population here. The amount of people who are born in the U.S. and go to live in India is probably very few. Is that right?
Jennifer: I would guess. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I would imagine it’s it’s not. It’s not equal,
David: But I know you’ve done it a couple of times, so we’d love to get on to that. But maybe we could just start out. Would you give us a little bit of a background on your early life where you grew up and how you first got into the world of social work?
Jennifer: I grew up in central New York, so roughly around a five-hour drive from New York City. Not at all a city person. Of course, most people, even in the U.S., when you say New York, people think New York City, which is far from I’m not a city girl like that. I grew up around cows and sheep and all that stuff. I mean, I didn’t live on a farm, but there were plenty around. The place I grew up in was a very small town, which tended to not from the outside, at least look very diverse. Due to this, I always had an interest and I was always attracted to people from different places, not just other countries, but other towns and other cities and states.
Because I was always wondering, like, what is it like to live outside of this small town? And also, my own family and parents are actually from Hungary originally, so they would always mention how they felt like an alien in the U.S. because they didn’t grow up here. I’m sure a lot of people that come from other countries, maybe even including you, David, sometimes might feel a little bit out of place in the U.S. when you didn’t actually grow up here. Due to this, I heard that a lot from my parents growing up. So I always wondered what would it be like to live in a different country or live in a different place and what I feel out of place? And what would that be like? So that’s how it kind of all started.
David: Yeah, actually, that a couple of the things you say there is definitely true. I mean, I moved from London to New York a number of years ago, and that was actually a little bit of a culture shock. And I often tell people I had a language problem because people didn’t understand me. I would say things and I would get these blank looks because I said something that either my phraseology or my way of speaking on my accent or whatever, they really didn’t understand. But I too like yourself, always wanted to experience living in another country for as long back as I can remember. I always said, “I want to live somewhere else” And, I never thought I would do it on a long-term basis like I have. But you never know what life might have in store for you and where that might go.
Jennifer: Exactly so true. And you’re walking around in New York City reminds me. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Sting. He had a song Englishman in New York. That’s always a great cross-cultural song.
David: Yeah, that certainly is. So would you tell us a little bit about the work you did in mental health for children and youth? Was that the first job you got into after education?
Jennifer: Yes, I did earn my master’s degree in social work in India. So I had to come back to the U.S. and get it certified under the U.S. educational standards, which was actually pretty easy to do. And once I did that, I started working. I worked as a mental health social worker for about eight years in two different locations, one in a kind of a small town, almost like a village area and then in one in a more metropolitan area. So, the purpose of the work I did was to work with children and youth who are identified with a mental health diagnosis and help keep them out of out-of-home placements, whether that be hospital stays or other types of care facilities where they would be placed out of the home.
This work was done in community settings, which meant that they did not come to our office. We would meet them where they were, whether that’s their home, their school, doctor’s appointments, playgrounds, wherever. Wherever they want to meet us, we go there. So we did get to see and learn a lot about their lives, really, from an insider perspective. So I feel so blessed. I know that it was my job, but still, they don’t have to let you into their house and into their lives. The amount of different types of individuals I got to interact with and got to know on a real, real personal basis was just incredible. So I’m really happy about that.
David: Yeah. Yeah, that must have been the fulfilling thing to do, although I’m sure you did see some hardship that some people were going through and probably some sad situations, but the children need advocates for them. So, so great. You were able to do that. But let me ask you, you mentioned that you’ve got your master’s degree in India. So what took you to India to do that?
Jennifer: Oh yeah, that’s another interesting story. As I mentioned, when I was growing up, I had this desire to explore the world and get to know other countries, cultures, different things like that. So one part of my college experience in the U.S. was studying at the University of Buffalo in New York State, which has a lot of international students. There, I made friends from all different countries, but predominantly Japan and India, and somehow my Indian friends were so generous they actually said, “Hey, why don’t you come to India and stay with our family for a couple weeks?” I did that right after graduating from my undergraduate degree. And when I was there, by the time I got there, I thought I wanted to study in India.
Actually, I wanted to do a study abroad from the U.S., but it became very costly, and they said they would help me find a college in India to do it through. I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but they helped me. They helped me by housing me in their house when I went to visit, and then they took me on college tours and I ended up choosing a college.
I initially was thinking I wanted to do anthropology. I’m still very much interested in that subject, but the reason I opted for social work was because I would be learning more about… I felt more about the culture, current culture rather than culture of yesteryear or some other time period. And I would be able to talk to a lot of people, even if I didn’t know the language, I ended up learning some. So once I decided that we, we narrowed down the number of colleges that I could possibly apply to because of the language constraint and requirement. And then we ended up finding one that I could apply to. And as they say, it’s history from there. So it was a great, great, a wonderful experience.
David: Yeah. And what city were you in? What part of India were you in when you did your studies?
Jennifer: I guess it southeast India. In the state is Tamil Nadu and the city was Chennai, and the college was Madras Christian College. So now it’s considered part of Chennai City proper. I think because the city has grown so much. But when I was there in the late nineties, it was like a village on the outside. So there was like hardly that many foreigners that would come there. No real foreign food, except for maybe foods from other parts of India. But even like pizza was not really available at that time. So definitely have to kind of immerse yourself completely into that culture, into that cuisine and even getting some things like cereal. Bread even wasn’t something that people would eat at that time.
David: Wow. Now I’ve never been to India, but what I do know about it is that the country is huge. It’s like a continent all in itself, many different cultures, many different languages. Did you get to experience some of the other parts of the country?
Jennifer: Definitely. Definitely. On my two and a half years studying there, I did because we had a study tour as part of our degree, so we ended up traveling. My classmates and I traveled to different parts of North India, where I got the opportunity to see Taj Mahal, and we also went to various social organizations in and around Delhi and a few other cities in North India. But then my second time living in India, some years later with my husband, we lived in a different state and I traveled a lot for work.
David: That’s wonderful. It is. I know this just massive centre of culture for the. World and something I’d like to experience one day, and how many times have you lived in India? Is it two or three?
Jennifer: Times, two times? But if I count all the times, I’ve actually traveled back and forth in a plane? It’s like 30 times.
David: So then the second time that you lived there was that the time that you started your business working on cross cultural environments?
Jennifer: Exactly. Yeah, that would be true, David. So when we moved, my husband and I moved to India together. That was my second time living there in 2011. Since my background was in social work, I had actually studied social work in a different state of India, so the language in this state was different. It’s going to be a different language. I didn’t know that language at that time. There were no social work jobs to do in English or none that I was aware of. Due to this, my job scope in that career path was very limited.
As my husband always knew that I was interested in cross-culture. I did a lot of volunteer work at international student offices and other various things in the U.S., so he suggested that since we lived near the IT park, so he suggested I go to the IT park and offer to give free seminars on how to work with Americans. And it kind of blossomed from there because at first I never thought of a business. But then people were like, “Hey, Jennifer, we’ll pay you for this.” And I was like, “That sounds pretty good to me.”
David: Yeah, it’s amazing. Sometimes if we apply the skills and the things that we’re good at, and even if you are doing it for free, it’s amazing how I’ve heard many examples of people turning it into a profitable business. So, so were you working with individuals or companies in India doing business into the US?
Jennifer: Generally, companies. So it started out with some startup companies (typically development teams) that I’m still working with to this day, a handful. And then then I ended up getting connections into bigger, well, well-known companies like EY, which is a global company, UST [Global], which is also global but generally has lots of offices in India. So that’s like a Microsoft, you could say the Microsoft of India. I don’t know if anyone’s ever said that about them, but I worked at Microsoft too. I did a couple of projects there in India. So yeah, I’ve worked in big companies, medium-sized companies, small companies. So I would say 90 percent of my clientele tends to be the corporate. The corporate person will hire me, but then 10 percent would be private clients.
David: And what would you teach them? Was it a difference in business or was it cultural communication? What are the sort of things that you would be providing as a service?
Jennifer: So all of that actually is part of it. Generally, most of the people I worked with in India were working with Americans, but from India. About 90 percent of those individuals would only be working within India. So how to work on a remote global cross-cultural team, how to communicate effectively lead projects. If we’re just looking at U.S. versus Indian culture, for example, what do you do to really impress someone in the U.S.? And how might that be different than India? How do you build relationships differently? How do you bridge the gap? So a lot of different skills techniques, leadership skills, communication skills. And the other 10 percent of individuals I trained did end up coming to the U.S. or we’re planning to.
Some of them may have not have made it yet, but I did train around two thousand or more people and one program that were planning to come to the U.S. through one company. And so that was all about how do you what do you do to move to the U.S.? That’s a little bit different than the actual day-to-day working, but those are the types of programs typically that were offered in that email, writing and other different types of business communication, types of programs.
David: And in some ways, you could say you were ahead of the game because who would have thought? Fast forward a few years. There be a global pandemic and everybody is doing what you were teaching people to do at that time.
Jennifer: Exactly. So true.
David: And then a few years ago, you found yourself moving back to the US. You settled in Salt Lake City, Utah. How long ago was that and how did you continue your business when you got back to the U.S.?
Jennifer: We came back in 2017 and initially, I wasn’t sure how I would do that. I knew it would be happening in some capacity, but actually, honestly, initially when I came back, I really didn’t know. Initially, I thought I was going to have a job. Due to that, I tried a job route while still working with a couple of clients in India. So the business continued because it was registered in India, so I could still have clients in India. They could pay me domestically. Within India.
That was working for a little while, but then the job hunt thing never really materialized and then by 2019 or so, although in between I was kind of working very part-time and I had other types of volunteer work I was doing like I volunteered at the refugee center, teaching English to refugees and some senior citizens who at the senior center, who are foreigners to this country, different places. I did a lot of different volunteer work to keep myself busy, which was really great. I’m really grateful for that experience and I met a lot of amazing people.
Around the end of 2019, I decided I’m going to get back into the Authentic Journeys and really try to get it moving again. I registered it also in the U.S. at that time and I started trying to rebuild my connections with all my clients, which wasn’t too difficult since I was trying to maintain once a quarterly newsletter and stuff with all my contacts.
So then the thing that was kind of the sticking point, I would say, was doing it virtually with something that people still weren’t really on board with in 2017 for sure. 2018 for sure and 2019 for sure. They weren’t really convinced that online training, coaching would work, would be effective. There were a couple of clients like I said, who we tried it, we tested it and they were happy with it. They enjoyed it. They enjoyed the process. It wasn’t ideal for them, but we saw good results, right? So of course, when the pandemic hit in 2020, although we were, we were going to have projects going because of the shutdown and all of that that put a damper in for about six months.
By the end of 2020, things started picking up and people started realizing like waking up like a bear, almost like a bear, waking up from a hibernation, you know? We need to do something here and we need to do it now, and we’re behind the cue ball behind the game here. How are we going to do this? We still can’t meet in person, and I was one of the only people that some of my clients knew who did anything online, so I had a little bit of a track record compared to other people.
So then I started getting loads of calls. Can you help us with this? Can you help us with that blah blah blah? And it just kind of took off at that point. And since then, it’s like been this deluge, which is amazing. So more and more people are jumping in. Of course, now I think people are getting zoomed out. Of course, they do want that more of a personalized in-person experience, but there’s always going to be a mix. So that’s kind of how it got restarted here. It is different.
Obviously, delivering online is a completely different experience, not just for the people participating, but for me, it’s a lot different. So I had to learn new things. I had to take that content that I delivered live and transfer it and translate it and everything into this new methodology, which is a big, big learning curve for everyone to actually do that. So but it’s been great because now I realize I can do it and it’s actually pretty fun. I’m glad I can still be in touch with everyone I worked with, even though I’m not actually in India. So that’s really nice.
David: Great. And do you work exclusively with people between the US and India or do you do things in a wider scale than that?
Jennifer: Well, definitely before the pandemic and probably, you know, up until the late end of 2020 or so, I would say yes, I would say, 95% was between the U.S. and India. Since 2021, I’ve worked with clients in other countries like South American countries, European countries, they tend in those cases tend to be private clients. I haven’t yet connected with corporates in those areas, but it is widening out. So that’s really exciting for me because I love just to interact with people from so many different countries, like right now, I would say a couple in Europe and couple in South American countries for sure. In Asia, Philippines, I have someone in the Philippines also.
David: Wow. Is it just you? Are you doing this solo or do you have people working with you?
Jennifer: Most of the time it’s just me. But now I’m trying to get a team together of some of the colleagues I’ve worked with over the last decade to maybe help out now and then because I am only one person. And in order to actually make this sustainable, I need I need help from time to time. So that’s going to be great to actually work with a team of individuals who have some expertise similar to mine that can actually provide an experience. So a lot of the clients who have been working with me for a while know my style, know my personality and of course widening the widening that has some opportunities and risks, so I’m trying to figure out how to manage that, but it’ll work out for the best. I know it’s going to be amazing.
David: That is great. And maybe your business will take you traveling to other countries you’ve never been to before.
David: So Jennifer, what’s t your vision for the future of the business? Do you see it expanding from here doing the same thing, maybe expanding into different areas?
Jennifer: Well, definitely what part of the expansion is getting others on board to help me to deliver the live experiences. I’m also going to be rolling out an online platform where individuals can take self-paced learning either completely on their own or with additional coaching. If they opt for additional coaching, that would either be with me or some of my other colleagues. That’s another way to expand this out, and there’s other types of ideas that are being thrown around by some of my colleagues. Currently we’re trying to figure out how to actually weave some of those things in as well.
David: Yeah. And do you see people are talking about the great resignation? A lot of people are quitting their jobs and moving on. What we’re seeing here, what we do is a lot of people are moving more into freelance work and that’s really the demographic that we’re looking to support. Do you see a lot of that?
Jennifer: Well, because the company is the one usually hiring me, I would say I don’t see it directly as much, but I know it’s happening. I know for sure it’s happening because those in the company who are still there, I know, have mentioned that some who have left are going out on their own and doing things. And this isn’t just in the U.S. this is for sure. In India, it’s become a lot more acceptable to do your own thing and advertise it online and get a bunch of followers and like, then teach other people how to do that.
I think it’s not just confined to the U.S., and I have heard from some of my other clients in other countries that that’s becoming more popular there as well. This is going to shift a lot of the work that we’re really used to and how it’s being done to something completely different that we’re not even really sure how that’s going to impact so many parts of society yet. So it’s going to be interesting to see.
David: Yeah, it’s definitely evolving. And I think, you know, the world of work, I think by the end of this decade could look very different. I certainly have some visions of the way it might go. Philosophically, I often ask myself the question Would this have happened this way had it not been for the pandemic? Well, we don’t really know, but it’s an interesting question.
Jennifer: Yeah, yeah. I mean, some of those I’ve talked to in other countries, I think their impression is that it would not have happened there without the pandemic happening. Some of my clients, especially in South American countries, were saying, like some of the things we hear here, people kind of traveling and working from traveling and all that. They never saw that before the pandemic, or at least the people I’ve talked to in those countries never saw that happening in South America and their South American country before the pandemic. And now it’s so common that some of these individuals are saying they’ll only stay with their companies if they’re allowed to work remotely and be on the move, even if they also have a family, which is even something a little bit more striking. So it’s not just people who are single.
David: Yeah, absolutely. And once again, as I say, it’s definitely evolving. So, Jennifer, one of the interesting things when I look at some of the companies you work with, I see that you have actually worked with an Australian company, a company called Get Me and Anybody that follows the channel may remember that I interviewed Bala Thavarajah several months ago, so I believe you two know each other.
Jennifer: Yeah, we do. David, thanks for bringing that up. Actually, I am, and I have known each other for a couple, almost a couple of years now. I can’t believe the time has flown by so fast. And yeah, I’m happy through Authentic Journeys to partner with, Get Mee to provide some content and also some other exciting opportunities.
David: And I know that one of the missions of Get Mee is to help people with language learning, but also it’s providing this whole tool chest of coaches, so they want coaches to come in and be able to work for them. So are you one of those coaches that’s on their toolkit?
Jennifer: Yes, definitely. So we’re working through some more ways that I can help out with. Get Mee. I think it’s a great ideation, great idea. So many people need it, actually. So definitely, I’m glad you brought that up. Thank you for asking.
David: Yeah, good. And I wish both of you a lot of success, of course. So, Jennifer, thanks so much for sharing all of these thoughts with us and your experience. You’re clearly very. All you’ve built a successful business out of something, you saw a need and you are able to build it and get it to some success. So if anybody would like to contact you or would benefit from using your services, what’s the best way of reaching you?
Jennifer: Well, number one is I do have a LinkedIn, so they can just fine me. Jennifer Kumar on LinkedIn and my handle is Jennifer Kumar. I believe there’s a few Jennifer Kumars on there. I am typically wearing a sari in my profile picture, so that might help me stand out. And also through the website Authentic Journeys dott info. So either one of those is the best way, right?
David: I love the name of your company, by the way. Authentic ourneys. I think that that speaks a lot. How did you come up with the name?
Jennifer: So this is a good one. I like this question always. So when we move across cultures, that’s our journey. And when we move across cultures, we encounter things that confuse us, delight us, surprises, scare us and might make us challenge our own values or thoughts, make us learn new things. So in that we want to be authentic in bridging those gaps. So authentic journeys.
David: Yeah, love it. Great. Great name. So, Jennifer, once again, thank you very much for joining us today. It’s been a pleasure chatting to you, and I wish you continued success and that your business will take you to many interesting places in the world.
Jennifer: Yes, for sure. Thanks, David. Thank you so much for having me.
David: My pleasure. Thank you and thanks everyone for watching. If you enjoyed this video, please subscribe to our channel. Leave your comments below. And as ever. Be well. Be happy. And this time I’m going to say be authentic. We uploaded We do talk every week. So if you enjoyed this one, please subscribe and leave your comments below.
Other podcasts and webinar where Jennifer Kumar was a guest or panelist:
Top 5 Pronunciation Tips for Virtual Meetings hosted by Andrea Giordano from Study with Andrea – March 2020
Improving Your Online Home Office Presence – Webinar with Brent Edwards and Jinesh Narayanankutty – May 2020
Recalculating Career Opportunities with Lisa Hecht and Stephanie Renk- March 2021
Communicate Successfully at WORK with Ethan from Beyond Borders – October 2021
(If you listen to this podcast on their website, you will see that Ethan has extracted the idioms and phrasal verbs that I used for additional learning.)
Providing Cross-Cultural Training in India hosted by Hugo Messer from Ekipa – Jan. 2016
A Few Small Talk Topic Taboos hosted by Lindsay McMahon from All Ears English – Oct. 2105
The Ultimate Guide to Email Writing for Ease and Professionalism hosted. by Gabby Rincon of English Priority, January 2022
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