Media Management and Transformation Centre (MMTC) at JIBS
How do we learn from our students?
Students attend universities to gain knowledge and skills that will provide them a prosperous future. According to the World Economic Forum, the most valuable skills for tomorrow are: critical thinking, complex problem solving, people management, coordinating with others, judgment and decision making, negotiation, cognitive flexibility and creativity. I want to believe that when we build courses, we have these goals in mind and we do our best to create a platform to facilitate “distilling” these skills. What better environment might there be than an international business school to accomplish this goal?
I would therefore argue that one of the most rewarding careers is the role of an educator. Being there on the forefront of the next generation’s ambitions and plans to succeed – providing students with direction, guidance and support—is immensely satisfying. Helping students continuously learn and perfect themselves, staying curious and interested, keeps educators going.
But, do we, ourselves, learn in this process?
As an educator specializing in international marketing, my answer is resoundingly yes. One of the most precious outcomes I receive is tapping into the power of diversity in our classrooms and learning from people of many different backgrounds and cultures. This teaching is not without the struggles, but prize is worth of the effort. Two stories illustrate this.
First, a few years ago, I was reading the Harvard Business Review, which we normally respect and look to for accurate insight. In a series of advertisements, that issue illustrated cultural distinctions by depicting simple, mundane things that differ across the world. For instance, a simple hand gesture sends very different messages in different geographies. In Italy, a particular gesture means “What exactly do you mean?” while in Egypt, the same gesture signifies “Be patient” and in Greece, “That is just perfect.” I believed HBR’s adverts as being correct, until a Greek student of mine proved to me that HBR was dead wrong. Lesson learned.
Again, in the same series of ads, it also depicted a grasshopper as a pest, an appetizer and a pet, depending on the place. But in my classroom, we received a stern lecture correcting the significance of a grasshopper as a pet in Chinese culture.
The second story involves a lecture I did on retailing in different parts of the world. I cited some famous authors who claimed that the average spend of a Japanese supermarket shopping basket is only around 5 US dollars. The authors claimed that the Japanese live in restricted living spaces that do not allow them to store much. In the classroom all went well.
But later that evening, I received an email from a Japanese student of mine. Her note contained two parts. First came a long apology and assurance that she did not want to question my authority and knowledge (which perfectly fits with Japanese high power-distance culture where authorities are not to be questioned and an elder / superior should be treated with respect!). The second part was her explanation about shopping. She stated that women in Japan do the shopping and they usually do not drive cars, but rather use bikes or public transportation, and that is why they don’t shop for more items at once. Another valuable insight to share in future classes.
My point is, as educators, we need to be open to listening and learning from our students. We cannot be arrogant and believe we are the only ones who know the facts. We might have limited experiences ourselves and do not know the nuances of many foreign cultures that we may be teaching about. But if we invite our students to teach us, we too can learn something new.
Embracing a multi-dimensional learning paradigm also extends to the value for everyone at an international business school like JIBS. This is a great environment that, like a laboratory or test facility, provides our students unique opportunities to learn about themselves and the world from the comfort of their classrooms. What they learn here can avoid costly mistakes that might be made later in their business endeavors, in their professional careers, and in their intercultural encounters.
There is a saying in my native culture that you should travel to see the world. Is it possible to bring the world to your own home? JIBS brings the world under its own roof – so we can learn and grow. This is what makes living and working in the most international business school in Sweden a rewarding experience.
Assistant Professor, Business Administration