June 28, 2018

Learning and teaching insights from Slovenia and US

Jennifer Pope (PhD) was happily teaching sales,marketing and negotiations in US and then suddenly took a step that seems to have changed her life – came to IEDC - Bled School of Management. She had visited Slovenia many times before and had also long-term teaching experience from Germany and France. After meeting Danica Purg many years ago, she knew already about the uniqueness of IEDC and was sure, she would learn a lot when coming to IEDC. This is why she decided to apply for a Fulbright grant for a whole year. As she had family heritage in Slovenia, she was eager to learn Slovene language and culture and really experience her roots. So, Jennifer got the Fulbright grant and came. Jennifer's contribution to Lead4Skills project cannot be overestimated and therefore we are eager to ask about her experiences during the project implementation and her stay in Bled. The interview took place in Slovenia, but focused on both - Slovene and US experience of learning and teaching.

What made your year at IEDC special and valuable for you?

Most of all, the creative way of teaching – using art, literature and music to teach business and leadership rather than strictly the business tools that everybody seems to follow in other universities. And I liked the idea of liberal arts approach to education, especially to business education as I have liberal arts background.

I really like the idea of teaching business from different perspective - looking at business through art and music and look how it really shapes the way how people view the world.  I also learned a lot about teaching cases I did not know before, that I would like to bring back to my university and even employ in my own classes. It is also important to educate the whole person and not just the subject. Learning is not about passing the test, it is about getting the education. Also, negotiations skills are culture-specific and I know now better how to prepare my US students for international business negotiations. Most probably I will use more music and videos in my classes in the future to make it more integrated and less preaching.   I also plan to lecture less and have the students participate more, which can be a struggle with undergraduates.  I start the semester with the students getting into groups and talking - I think I can better meet the needs of the classes this way.  

What did you do and learn in IEDC as Fulbright scholar?

Well, I taught a few seminars primarily in sales. But mostly I did research, contributed as qualitative researcher of Slovenia for Lead4Skills project. After the research was done, my major project was about editing the book (with research results).I am also a co-author of a case study on an energy company in Serbia about CSR.   Luckily enough I had also opportunity to participate at IMTA – Teachers Academy.  

In the research meetings,I learned a lot about different perspectives and approaches to research indifferent parts of the world.  Approaches to the interviews, for example.  I really enjoyed getting to know and learning from so many people from different countries. In addition, I feel like I improved my qualitative research skills,particularly working with and teaching the PhD student.  As for the editing and publishing part, doing a book is a look more complex than an article, which is where most of my experience is.  Having to mesh the different chapters with different authors is a lot of work, more than I anticipated. It required a more detail focus, with every detail important.  I enjoyed doing a book, because I felt like there are fewer politics in publishing a book over a journal article.  

Based on your experiences, are there any differences between teaching approaches in Slovenia and US?

Teaching approach here was very different as I had to teach executives, that I had never done before. So that was probably the biggest challenge. Before that I had taught sales and marketing for years, but to undergraduates. And you know, you do not teach executives as you do undergraduates. I really had to re-think what new skills or refresh-skills I could provide to the class full of sales professionals. Thus, not to teach actually the sales class, but sales skills.First, I needed to discover my own individual mindset - and help the students find theirs by looking at things like your style, your approach to people, how you read people, how you frame your presentation on how you read these people –to those kinds of things I would not necessarily get to when teaching the undergraduates. These skills become important to me as the executives already knew how to sell and I just tried to make them a little bit of better in that.Finally, it was a very successful approach based on the feedback received and I actually enjoyed it very much. Now I hope to do a lot more of executive teaching as I know how fun it is to do.

I have not had chance to teach executives in the US since returning, only undergraduates,which is a shame.  Undergraduate students in the US expect their professors to hold their hands a lot more then students in Slovenia.  I enjoyed having students in Slovenia that did not expect me to give them all the answers.

Did the teaching tools differ concerning the target group?

Yee, withexecutives you are really not lecturing. It is more about hands-on – doing activities, showing short videos, discussing them. I have asked them to bringin a situation from their job and then we talk how you would approach this. The challenges will be discussed with the whole group in order to understand how tomake this customer happy. They really got into it and we had very activediscussions. Executives are willing to talk, while with undergraduates it mightbe difficult sometimes.  I provide thefloor for them to learn from each other instead of just listening to me.  I want this to be multiway andmultidirectional education. However, some cultural adjustments were also needed.

Did you find out of any challenges that executives in Slovenia face?

Sale persons here are usually dealing with people from different countries. Therefore, they know very well how to adjust themselves to different cultures while the salespeople in US are dealing mainly with US customers. Here people are much more tune on how to adjust to a culture and how to reflect that on their sales presentations. Another difference is about small companies as their relations with suppliers are quite different then huge companies’ relations. I actually learned a lot from them that I can now take back to US and share with my students to give them more cultural insights on how the things work around the world.

What is your Secret Recipe – how to overcome the cultural differences in business?

It is really about being aware of the differences and recognising them. You have to respect the differences and this does not mean in going native. Sometimes just minor adjustments are needed to sales presentation to meet that person’s needs and help to make the decision that they need to make.  Sales is about showing the buyers the best decision and helping them to make the best decision even if this is not your product.

Based on your experience, do the universities in US prepare the students for real life needs?

Yes and no. They do a good job in explaining you need to adjust, but I do not think they do enough about cultural differences. Different parts of US have different experiences. I teach in the Mid-West and most of my students have not been outside the US, not even outside Michigan (nationally only 4% of students study abroad) and this is why they do not recognise cultural differences as the students in here. Sometimes the universities have the mindset – we do not need to train the students for the job, they get the training on the job. It is our job to give them the basic knowledge they can use to build the skills. It is not quite common to have the teachers who have not worked in the industry or even consulted – thus, they are without any real life experience. Also, guest speakers are brought into classroom rather seldom – mainly books are used to teach. Thus, there is a lack of connection to the real world. I believe,College should not be escape from the real world.

On the other hand, I teach to graduate students how to negotiate salary, most of the students do not come to the seminar as they do not see any need for that – I have never had a business student in that seminar, mainly social work students attend.  US students often do not take advantage on what is out there. It might be related to the fact that most of the graduate students in US already work.

Do the companies in US see there is a need for different approach?

The companies have been pushing, at least in the business schools, to do more.  Our college has always had more internship requests then we have students.  Students are not inquired to have internships, but more and more companies want interns.In my university there is a person who screens the internship offers, because the goal is to make sure that the students will get something valuable out there. We do not want them to come there making coffee. By law the companies need to pay the students, but they are cheap labour but never free labour. Beforehand after the internship, the plan and report need to be approved by a professor.Before the internship students have to fill in an extensive check-list with the skills they plan to learn.   Companies that use our students to make coffee, will not get our students next time when they ask – most of the companies understand this and do appreciate that. Thus,take full advantage of the students, thus after successful internship offer to students full-time jobs. This is something that the college and business has been worked together on very hard. We also involve companies who are interested in our students as interns, as guest speakers. In Slovenia this is an underdeveloped resource. There is one more best practice – we have encouraged companies to provide our students grants to go abroad, however the students are not tied up to those companies. US really needs to look outside its borders.

You seem to like teaching and students very much –what makes it so special for you?

I get a lot out of the students’ success. When a student tells me, that he tried something that I taught in the class and it worked, that makes my whole day. I did not go to PhD school to become a teacher, I wanted to become a consultant. Then I got to the classroom and saw the students’ reactions… I also like the flexible lifestyle. My mother was an extremely creative teacher and I follow her teaching style, even though she was teaching children – she could turn anything to a teaching tool. Now, I also collect things that I think students would be interested to see, for instance advertisements around the world to show them how things are.

What are your personal future plans?

I am actively working on finding a job in Europe. I would love to return to Slovenia and live here. It has been such a great experience for me. I would like to do more teaching, especially seminars. I also enjoy research very much.


Interviewed by Marge Sassi

junior researcher/lecturer/PhD candidate

Estonian Business School