Designing Hyderabad: Introducing Cultural Lessons Into the Student Experience

Minerva Voices
Minerva University
Published in
5 min readOct 23, 2018


by: Pranav Singh, Associate Experience Designer, Hyderabad

Photo: Bethany Jana

Hyderabadi biryani is one of the more complex dishes to cook. The process involves three main components: first, you must marinate the meat or vegetables; then par-cook the rice in water tempered with spices and salt; finally, combine all the ingredients together, using the dum (steam) to cook the rice and the meat. The result is a wonderfully balanced and satisfying communal dish to share with friends and family.

Earlier this year, two weeks into the Hyderabad leg of the Class of 2019 and 2020’s global rotation, 25 Minerva students — representing 16 countries — sat on the periphery of a mango orchard beneath a makeshift tent. 25 kilometers from the city center in Hyderabad, in the afternoon sun, the students gathered to cook biryani for 250 of their classmates.

A collection of local chefs, who cook biryani every day for a living, were on hand to help but there was an added challenge — the chefs were instructed to act merely as coaches for students and were forbidden from doing any food preparation themselves. There was a language barrier as well — the chefs did not speak a word of English and the majority of students did not have much experience with Hindi. The students needed to develop a means to communicate effectively, discover the nuances of the recipe, and execute the meal — all in the span of four hours, when the rest of the members of the cohort would begin to arrive. The stage was set to challenge them.

As one of the Experience Designers on the Student Experience team in Hyderabad, one aspect of my job is to help students integrate their learning goals with the resources and opportunities available in India. For many of the students, this is their first time in the country and the bustle and uniqueness of Hyderabad can be quite a shock. From connecting them with local organizations, like T-Hub, Microsoft Garage, and Voice 4 Girls, to curating citywide activities, like attending the Holi festival, and helping them navigate a busy marketplace, the Student Experience team serves as a bridge between the Minerva community and their new city.

The student experience at Minerva is intentionally curated so that students are not isolated within an exclusive bubble nor are they superficially educated about only the “trendy” aspects of a city. Global immersion requires deeply connecting and understanding each culture’s unique history, modern passions, conflicts, and potential future paths. And the best way to help students accomplish this is by connecting with them the local individuals who know the city well to share their experiences. Thus, our team’s first major priority was to increase Minerva’s presence and awareness in Hyderabad in order to implement the experiential arc of the semester — jugaad.

Jugaad is best translated to mean frugal innovation or innovation within constraints. It was important for us that students understand this thematic concept within a variety of contexts as this type of innovation exemplifies India, as well as other developing countries. Using our networks and relationships, my team and I curated an intentional list of over 50 local organizations that would be able to help our students understand this key worldview. With our partners, we designed a variety of programs to incorporate jugaad into their lives.

One event, known as a co-curricular, included a visit to the bangle making shops in the Laad Bazaar, a 400-year old marketplace in the city. This activity helped students understand the perspective of local entrepreneurs who were trying to make a living within a decentralized small-business sector. The students watched the bangle makers create beautiful jewelry and then discussed ways to help the artisans develop their business.

Students learning about bangles at the Laad Bazaar

Another cultural immersion co-curricular involved a day working on a farm outside the city with Cosmos Green, a local non profit organization that creates innovative and cheap solutions to increase agricultural productivity in the severe drought-prone region. While partaking in light manual labor alongside local workers, students began to understand how they could affect and inspire societal change even with severe constraints. Additionally, through a semester-long project with T-Hub, India’s largest start-up incubator, students practiced applying jugaad within a entrepreneurial framework. Over the semester, the student team created a strategy to educate and help International startups enter the growing Indian market. Creating within constraints is a valuable lesson that students will be able to utilize throughout their lives and, I believe, Hyderabad is the best place where they can learn it through application.

Back at the feast, an hour before the meal is supposed to be served, I saw that the students have not only finished preparing the biryani but decided to make dessert and pakoras (fritters) as well. In the short time given, the students realized that assigning 25 people to complete the same task would more likely create chaos than biryani. Instead, they organized themselves into five different groups, each with a designated lead to communicate with the local chefs, and divided the entire meal into five different tasks. The team’s approach to cooking biryani for their entire class illustrates jugaad in real life. They understood the constraints, quickly started problem-solving within these constraints, and created a solution that streamlined the process to ensure the food was plated on time.

In my work at Minerva, there has never been a dull moment. Interacting with such driven students from all across the world and supporting their professional and community needs on a daily basis is both incredibly challenging and immensely rewarding. One of the best parts about this job, though, is that the students challenge me to explore and see my own city and country in a way I have not before. In the process of creating experiences for our students, I have fallen in love with Hyderabad all over again. I cannot wait to see what surprises are in place, come January 2019 when the next cohort, the Class of 2021, arrives.

Experience Hyderabad, and the full global rotation, yourself, as a member of the Class of 2023. Apply today.



Minerva Voices
Minerva University

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