Right at Home in Hoboken
School of Business graduate assistant makes the most of everything Stevens’ offers, both academically and culturally.
One of Manikandan Saravanakumar’s favorite songs is “Fly Me to the Moon” by Hoboken native Frank Sinatra, but when he arrived from India on December 24, 2021, he felt more like he had landed on it.
“Mani,” as he’s known by just about everyone at the Stevens School of Business, meticulously researched schools and ultimately chose Stevens to pursue his dream of earning an MBA. Unfortunately, that research did not include winter wardrobes.
“The day I came here was freezing cold,” he recalled. “The lowest temperature where I’m from would be about 22 degrees Celsius (76 Fahrenheit). I didn’t even have any gloves.”
To complicate matters, Mani’s housing plan fell through just minutes before the plane took off. Using “glitchy” onboard internet, Airbnb and a network of Stevens students he met during his orientation, he was able to find a short-term solution in the heart of New York City.
“It was a hassle, but it proved to be helpful,” he recalled. “I saw the tree in Rockefeller Center, Times Square, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Central Park; I did all the New York stuff in the first two weeks.”
“All the Stevens’ students help each other.”
The Stevens community not only helped him upon arrival but was crucial in making sure he stayed. Trying to find permanent housing in New Jersey and adjusting to his new surroundings proved frustrating and he was “so fed up.” A tip on housing from someone in the WhatsApp group he started during orientation turned everything around.
“It's just a community effort,” he said. “All the Stevens’ students help each other. I joined with people who had connected with people before me. Believe it or not, they fed me on the first day. That was the first proper meal I had in a week and a half.”
“Graduate student life helped me a lot.”
While the student network played a big role in getting him settled, there were plenty of university resources available to help him find his way, like Graduate Student Life. Whether it’s helping students get involved in societies and clubs or pairing them with peer mentors to aid in their transition to Stevens, the office strives to promote students’ professional and personal development by creating a supportive, engaging environment.
From things as basic as navigating Hoboken and the campus to planning networking and social events, GSL was there to help Mani overcome the “culture shock” and help him get the full experience of Metropolitan NYC.
“Graduate student Life helped me a lot,” he said. “GSL told me about the Indian Student Association, which celebrates different festivals and made me feel so welcome. They also have a great newsletter that helps with understanding the lifestyle outside of academics—Where can you eat? What are the favorite pastimes? What is there to do for students?—the stuff we are always using.”
Provided with the opportunities, Mani has not been shy about taking advantage of them. He has participated in clubs and events covering a wide range of topics, including finance, painting, and even axe throwing. But perhaps, most importantly for him, he has been spellbound by the bright lights of Broadway.
“When you go to New York, you want to go to a Broadway show,” he said. “But it was like a $100-150 to go to a Broadway show. They subsidized it to $20 which was one of the greatest things they could have done. I'm hooked on Broadway.”
Stevens’ proximity to New York has allowed him to learn outside the classroom.
“GSL told us about the Eventbrite app, and because of that, I was able to go to some professional and networking events,” he said. “I love food, so I go to Hell's Kitchen a lot. I try to find the Broadway tickets on TodayTix, which is awesome. I am an art and history buff, so I went to the Museum Mile Festival on Fifth Avenue, which was free, and there is the Toastmasters club, which helps you enhance your public speaking.”
“It’s where all the action happens.”
If that weren’t enough, Hoboken itself offers plenty to explore. Mani enjoys checking out the local farmers' markets, parks, and even relaxing at one of the dog parks near his home because the pups are “just so lovely, so cuddly.”
And of course, there is the hub of restaurants and nightlife in the “Mile Square City.”
“Washington Street is where all the students go to have fun,” he said. “It’s where all the action happens. There is Italian food, Mexican, Indian, Chinese and just about everything in between. Nothing beats Indian food in India, but this makes me happy. Also, if you have a Stevens ID, you get a discount in a lot of places.”
One of those “happy” moments happened at the Brick Lane Curry House in nearby Jersey City. After hearing about the Phaal Challenge from a professor, he decided to get a taste of home. A bowl of curry made from the spiciest chilies on the planet later, Mani’s name now lives forever in the P’Hall of Fame.
His excursions around Hoboken are made easier by the Stevens Shuttle, a shared ride service provided free of charge by the university. Mani is able to book rides the app on his phone and get picked up in minutes. He’s also taken advantage of the school’s free annual membership to the Citi Bike network which covers Hoboken, Jersey City and New York City.
Mani quickly discovered he wasn’t the only one chasing his dreams. After finding a dresser on the Instagram account @stooping_hoboken, he discovered his ride-share driver was working on his master’s degree in finance. The two started chatting and quickly struck up a friendship.
“Now he's one of my good friends over here,” Mani said. “He's studying and paying for tuition through driving. This is like the land of dreams. He came from nothing in the Bronx, and he built an entire life now. It was so inspiring that I changed how I look at things. When I came, I was like, what am I doing here? Am I doing all right? Those small things reassure you. There are dreams that can be built from nothing. That’s what I want to do. I want to shape myself.
It stems back to the same thing, that group of people who help each other out. All the students, everybody from different cultures, people from Africa, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Belgium, France, etc., have their own way of living and everybody tries to put in the best thing. They push me to be a better self.”
That “better self” includes giving back to the community that has welcomed him. He volunteers at a shelter trying to “help out as much as I can,” even arranging a clothing drive in his building.
His commitment to others on campus includes serving as president for Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Business Honor Society for the 2023-24 academic year.
“I want people to feel happy about their work.”
Mani’s commitment to service goes back to his childhood in Erode, India. His father is credited with planting more than 100,000 trees and passed down the belief that “this earth is not inherited from your forefathers; it’s borrowed from your children.” That exposure to nature led him to study forestry at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.
As with many people, life took some twists and turns and Mani began working in the banking industry, taking on things like credit underwriting, cash management and foreign exchange, a journey he dubbed “Foresty to ForEx.”
His studies at Stevens have given him the tools and skills to combine his love of business with conservation. He plans to pursue a career in environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing.
“Everybody needs a livelihood, and businesses create those livelihoods,” he explained. “I want people to feel happy about their work by making businesses greener and helping have a positive impact on the world.”
“If you put in good things, you get back good things.”
Mani has learned many lessons on his journey from growing up in rural India to living 20 minutes away from the “greatest city in the world.”
“I would say it's up to you,” Mani said. “My dad used to say this, ‘If you put in good things, you get back good things.’ Just put in the effort. Learning doesn’t just happen in a classroom or on the computer, it happens within you. If you want to improve yourself, come improve yourself. Without the drive, it's not going to happen. Trust yourself, work hard and you can do anything.”
Just make sure you pack a pair of gloves.