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Many paths, but finally at home @ IIM

Mehak Khurana could have been a swimmer, or a Defence officer or even a software engineer, but she chose to study management at IIM-Kozhikode. What makes IIM so special? Read all about her inspiring journey.

It was 8 August 2009. The crowd was cheering high. An announcement was reverberating in the air: “Mehak Khurana, Haryana, and Block number 7”. I took my position, made a quick eye contact with my father who was already looking at me. At the fire of gunshot, the 50 m freestyle race began. I couldn’t get a position but I became the first ever female from district Panipat to represent Haryana at the National Swimming Championships. With this winning a national and representing India at World championships remained a distant dream. But my story doesn’t end there, this was just a beginning.

On a fine summer day in 2012, one of my friends convinced me to fill the application for AFCAT (Air Force Common Admission Test). Luckily, I cleared the exam and was selected for interview at Service Selection Board (SSB). Till that moment, I had no clue about the seven-day interview process at SSBs. No one in my family is in Defence Services to mentor me. I went for the interview, got selected among 40 students out of 360 participants. I stayed on the premises for six days for further evaluation and I instantly fell in love with it. Earlier, I wasn’t sure about my career choice, but those six days turned the table around and I so wanted to win it. Then there was a conference out in the process. I appeared for five more such interviews and got rejected at the very last step of the conference. Every time, I used to ask, what went wrong? Then, I used to ask myself, “Is there a scope of improvement within me?” The answer was always “Yes”. This gave me enough strength to stand up and work even harder to become a Flying Officer. But, during my last attempt, I got screened out. I asked the same question myself. This time, the answer was “No. I did my best.” That was the turning point in my life and I never turned back.

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The whole incident made me learn about own myself. I began to dream big. Eventually, I learnt to push my limits and perform extraordinarily. In all these years, I was working hard, trying my luck to make my parents proud. I never wanted to become mediocre in life and always strived to touch new heights. Graduating from a non-IIT institute always bugged me and motivated me to write CAT and get IIM on my CV. I prepared for three months in all during which I had to manage with my office ( a brief stint with TCS!) as well. I worked on time management and used it efficiently. For instance, I started to eat alone which would save me 40 minutes during the lunch break which could be used in newspaper reading. By making a strict and disciplined scheduled, I managed my studies which helped me score decent in CAT during my first attempt. Then, I prepared hard for the interview and cleared 8/10 interview calls. Happiness was converting my best call at IIM Kozhikode. This whole phase of six months taught me a lot: Stay in the game: A lot of aspirants get cold feet and quit during the preparation itself. Where there is a will, there is a way: I was being taught this since my childhood but I genuinely experienced during this phase. I believed in myself throughout. I knew it already that I can do it.

During the tough times, I used to put my best foot forward and accept the results. Even, if it’s a failure, I never wanted to carry the guilt of not trying my best. With this, I started my journey at IIM Kozhikode. Getting an admission letter was only the first step, sustaining two years was next. I was a bit worried that how would I compete with the brightest minds, IITians, CAs under the same roof. With my three life mantras, I gained enough strength not to just sustain the competition, but I am ranked among top 10 percentile of my batch of 423 students. Recently, I got an opportunity for foreign exchange programme for which I was awarded with Charpak Scholarship from the French Government. It makes me feel that life is taking me on a roller-coaster ride. I have not only learnt to dream big but have guts to fulfill them as well.

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Here is a chat with Mehak Khurana:

You began your story with a swimming race. When did you drop your fascination for sports and games?

I played the National tournament in Class X. My parents supported me throughout for my passion for swimming but once I cleared Class X, they pursued me to prioritise studies over swimming. My parents always wanted to see me graduate from an IIT. They felt being a female sports player from a state like Haryana, it is like choosing the road less travelled. So, the chances to touch new heights as swimmer looked like a distant dream. Plus, I scored really well in Class X exams, so the focus changed entirely towards academics.

Your next stint was with Air Force where again you did not last. What were the lessons you learnt from there?

Learn from failures: The consistency and passion to achieve the goal was prevalent throughout the journey. I never saw myself this committed to anything before. I learnt to embrace failures and learn from them. I learnt about myself, my limits, my weakness and my strengths: Each time I was conferenced out, I saw it as an opportunity to conduct a SWOT analysis of my own self. I would exceed my limits, work on the shortcomings and use my strengths to further structure my strategy. I started knowing myself even better. That helped me not even in Air Force, but also my preparation through CAT, interviews and even at IIMK. I learnt how to make difference in lives of your countrymen without joining forces: Once an officer told me, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, Amitabh Bachchan and many more great people tried their luck at SSBs in Defence Services but they couldn't make it. It doesn't mean you are a loser, it means you are made for something else. Thus, after five unsuccessful attempts, I made peace with it and started looking for opportunities where I can excel.

Then you landed at IIM-Kozhikode. How has the experience been?

IIM Kozhikode not only gave me a life-long branding but changed my life entirely. It made me smarter, bold and confident. I tried my best to keep my front foot forward and grab as many opportunities as I can. Thus, I am ranked in top 10 percentile of the batch. I am also elected as an executive member of Calicut Marathon Committee where we, a bunch of 20 students, organize Asia's largest student-run marathon which see a footfall of 5,000+ runners. Thanks to my fair performance in academics, I got selected for foreign exchange programme in Jean Moulin University at Lyon, France. I interned at Vodafone Idea and bagged Pre-placement offer as well. Thus, the last 18 months have been a roller coaster ride for me from sleepless nights for meeting deadlines to Europe tour for 3 months.

Also tell us for an aspirational student, what should be the process to get into an IIM? Some students start going for IIT/IIM coaching right from Class V. So what do you think is the right process?

For any goal, first you should be clear how bad do you need it and why? Coaching from class V doesn't make sense to me as it just overburdens the kid and scares him away from future challenges. The only thing important is that the basics should be clear. The students should focus on the core concept and ask questions like "why" and "how" instead of memorising concepts. For getting into IIM, clearing CAT cut-off is only the first step. The interview process is rigorous and selective. On an average, 1-2 students are selected from a bunch of 10-12 interviewed students. Thus, it requires thorough preparation and practice.

Tell us a bit about the Charpak Scholarship. The selection process, the benefits, advantages?

The Charpak scholarship is offered by French government to Indian students enrolled in an Indian institution of higher education at Bachelors and Masters degree level. The Charpak exchange program offers the following benefits to the awardees based on merit: Social security, student visa and Campus France fee waiver, assistance in finding an affordable student accommodation Eligibility: The applicant must be: An Indian national residing in India Not more than 30 years old (maximum at the time of application) Be currently enrolled in an Indian institution of higher learning that has a tie-up with the French institution where the applicant will pursue an exchange semester. Please note that it is mandatory. The final semester project and laboratory research in a partner institute in France is not applicable. Selection Procedure: The application is selected on the basis of academic excellence as well as the consistency and quality of the candidate’s statement of purpose.parameter.

How important do you think is to develop habits as a part of your life? What are those habits of yours that you think have helped you reach where you are currently?

Developing habits shape our overall personality. It can either make us or break us apart. Talking about myself, I am an ambitious, pragmatic and confident person. I am strong at heart and optimistic in nature. I am disciplined, committed and proficient in time management and resource utilization. I am always ready to take up new challenges in life. With a forward-looking and positive attitude, I always try to give my best shot, irrespective of the situation and circumstances. I had imbibed the core principles of integrity, self- sufficiency, honesty, and empathy from my parents. Staying away from them, pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me responsible, independent and helped me decipher my strengths, weaknesses, abilities, and shortcomings and aided me to understand the real world at a completely different level. I dream big and have guts to achieve it.

All throughout your story you have mentioned the importance of dreaming big. What are your dreams/aspirations for the future?

I aspire to become a successful entrepreneur. I want to work in social entrepreneurship where I can make a difference in lives of the unprivileged. I want to live a quality life where I have time for my family, my work and my hobbies. I want to take my parents on a world tour with me. I also want to learn playing drum.

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