Interview with Jeff Zimmerman

2023. October 11. 08:44

This semester we have Jeffrey Zimmerman (Associate Professor and Director of the Organizational Leadership Program at Northern Kentucky University) as a US Fulbright Scholar.

Please tell us about your work in the USA.

My home school is a mid-size university (Northern Kentucky University) with around 16.000 students and there I teach Organizational Leadership. I have to tell you that I absolutely love it – I never thought that I’d be into teaching, but one thing led to another and I ended up getting my MBA and PhD and I’ve found out that I really enjoy teaching.

I especially like groups, teams, and organizations as they very much relate to my upbringing. I was one of 6 kids. We always had extra bedrooms and when my older siblings moved out, our parents invited (piano) exchange-students from all over the world to stay with us for weeks at a time or even a year. That was my first taste of extensive cross-cultural interactions.

Actually my research area has a lot of connection to my childhood-memories: cross-cultural leadership. How leaders function in an unfamiliar situation – whether it’s a new country or in just a new organisation.

Some other areas I’m working in: organisational stress and conflict, teamwork, emotional intelligence, innovation, and change, among other topics.

What exactly did bring you here? Why did you choose Pécs and UPFBE as your destination?

I’ve only been to Hungary once before back in 2016 – it was only for 3 days. But let me go back further – I am from the USA, I did my BSc there, but actually I did my MSc and PhD in Austria. When I was there (for 5 years) I heard a lot about Hungary mostly because of the historical connection.

I chose Pécs particularly because of your leadership connected programmes (MSc in Management and Leadership and its BSc program) – that is something that you don’t find very often. This program also has such a good reputation.

I also knew that Pécs would be a welcoming place to bring my family. We arrived in September, a couple of weeks ago. By ’we’ I mean my wife and kids, too! My kids are in ’óvoda’ (Hungarian word for kindergarten). It’s really fun to see them interact with other children in this international atmosphere. We’re excited to be involved in the community – we love the exposure and diversity here.

Did you have some kind of culture-shock when you first arrived?

Yes, I actually research culture shock, too. The first week was the most stressful – maybe even more for my family. For example, we had a small stroller (for my son) and they lost it on the plane. It was above 30 degrees on these days and we had to carry my son everywhere. Other things like how to get a phone and how to get internet can be tricky, too. But thanks to Google and Google translate, everything can be found easily. Furthermore, my own research on culture shock provided valuable insight that made it easier for me to adjust. Nevertheless, it was still challenging; however, Pécs feels more like home each day.

On another note, in the classroom I have students from all over the world – it is wonderful to see how we all come together and work together in Pécs. I’m impressed with the internationalization of the school. The fact that professors teach and students study in a foreign language (in English) also says a lot about the quality and high expectations.

About your professional life – what classes do you teach?

I teach and co-teach in the Management and Leadership MSc and the BSc in Leadership programs. I am teaching „Lessons in Leadership” in the MSc Program and it’s a fun class because part of the class is based on the life stories/experiences of guest speakers. I ask each speaker the same questions (i.e. „What was your childhood like?”, „What was your biggest mistake?”, „What was a leadership failure and what did you learn from it?” or „Why did you (not) take jobs?”). Two guests are from Hungary and two are from elsewhere (in this case from the US). It’s always interesting how people from different nations and cultures have some common points in their careers and lives.

I find it important to learn from the high and low points of your life – and the speakers showcase this.

In the other classes, I get to take part in several different courses: International HR Management (where I co-teach with Dr. Zsófia Ásványi) and then Knowledge Management (where I guest lecture for Dr. Brigitta Szabó-Bálint).  These are courses for BSc and MSc students and I have a lot of fun teaching them. It is a pleasure to see how students and I grow and develop in the courses.

How do you see methods compared to each other? In what point are they different and/or similar?

I believe that wherever you go, you’ll find some differences and similarities. For example the structure here is very similar to what I’m used to in the US. The differences are with the instructors and/or expectations, but one thing I’d highlight is that it appears to be a more active learning process here in Pécs. I mean by that it is project based and we give a lot of freedom academically to students. I have to say that I prefer this.

Would you like to add anything?

Yes, I’ve kind of said this before, but I have to say it again. The internationalization here is very strong. You can tell it from the student body – hundreds (actually thousands) of students come from abroad to study here in Pécs. I bet that 75% of the students in my courses are not from Hungary. The range of perspectives this offers in our course discussions is tremendous. It’s easy to see the internationalization efforts by the University. This is one more reason why I want to support a long-term cooperation between our universities.

Another thing which is very unique here is the TalentSpot. It’s something that sets UPFBE apart from other universities. The ability to have these short sessions/workshops about these important topics are helpful in soft skill development, which is necessary to become a more effective leader. You can see the significant benefits these workshops bring to the students in so many ways. I very much enjoy the two workshops I am running, too.