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Interview with Dr. Krisztina Frankó

Dr. Krisztina Frankó

Hello and welcome. Please introduce yourself and tell us about your experience living and working abroad.

Hello, my name is Krisztina Frankó and I studied at the University of Miskolc as an economist. After this I spent 5 years of my life in Switzerland where I completed a scholarship at the University of Bern. While I was there Professor Norbert Thom asked me if I would like to teach at the university. So, I stayed as a senior lecturer at the University of Bern. After spending 1 year at the university I met Mr. Blöchlinger at a conference. After meeting again, he asked me if I would like to work for him, so I worked for a subsidiary of Adecco; Lee Hecht Harrison is a consulting firm dealing with outplacement activities.

It was a very nice period of my life; I learned a lot and as a result I am much more open-minded and self-conscious than I was before. I would recommend to all the students in Hungary to try and spend some time abroad, even just a few years. Currently, I am teaching at the University of Debrecen.

OK, so maybe you can tell us a little more about the benefits of living abroad.

Well, you can view your country and yourself from another point of view, from outside, if I can express it that way. When you live abroad, I think you can view things more realistically.

I also experienced a different type of learning method; in Hungary we used to sit in courses, not asking anything, learning, memorising and that was all. In Switzerland the courses are more interactive; they teach the students how to ask good questions and what kind of questions they should ask. The students are very involved in the topics and very interested. I remember when a guest lecturer held a course at the university the lecture room was always full of students; sometimes there were not enough chairs for them.

It is not just about getting a degree, a paper at the end; it is more about having the practical knowledge and understanding. My experience in Switzerland taught me to ask good questions if I don’t understand or if I am interested in something.

I learned that I am allowed to have ideas, new ideas, even if they are unexpected, and that I can express my opinion more freely and with certainty.

And what about the benefits of being multi-lingual, as you are?

I think that in this time of globalisation it is important to speak at least 2 foreign languages. My second language is German because I spent more time in German speaking countries, so I am better in German than English, but I also speak French, and through French I can understand some Italian.

If you go abroad and you know their language then you have a point of connection and the people there will be more open because they can understand you, and through that you can join in the local social life easier. The better you know the language the easier it is to get their trust.

Nowadays, because of globalisation, the students in Hungary should speak foreign languages much better than I did because I am much older than them but it is surprising that most of them only learn English to intermediate level and they don’t learn too many other languages. I personally think that they should learn at least 2 or 3 foreign languages. It would put them in a better position on the labour market as multi-national or trans-national firms prefer employees with good foreign language skills.

So, in relation to your work, where does your biggest interest lie?

OK, I like teaching; I think I have found my profession. The other thing I am interested in is culture, my research thesis was in intercultural communication and I am very interested in that; how different cultures can work together. If you think about intercultural communication, it applies even in a marriage and even if you are from the same nation you can have other cultural backgrounds because the subcultures are different. You have other norms or values and it can succeed or not and can sometimes end in divorce. So anyway, this is what I enjoy, but mainly I enjoy giving my knowledge to the students and I also enjoy learning more myself. Lifelong learning is a must in our globalized world.

…intercultural communication, it applies even in a marriage and even if you are from the same nation you can have other cultural backgrounds because the subcultures are different. You have other norms or values and it can succeed or not and can sometimes end in divorce.

So, we hear a lot about managing and leading in business, but how do the underlying effects of culture manifest themselves in business, especially in Debrecen? Is culture an important consideration as we conduct business?

I think culture is important, especially here in Debrecen as we have multi-national firms. We have quite a few foreigners working here; in top management and middle management. And often the culture of an organisation’s site is affected by the culture of the organisation’s parent site. So, for example, if we take an English company in Hungary, like Merlin, the organisational culture will have some values, norms and beliefs stemming from the English culture. So, here is an example of how the Hungarians working at that company should fit in with that organisation’s culture.

And the other thing is that in today’s economy the majority of companies are dealing with foreign clients. So, if you are applying for jobs you need to know English, German or Dutch for example because you need to make contact with the customer in their own language because of the question of trust. That’s why it is very important in call centres, even if it is outsourced in India, that they have the right accent. It is not face to face communication and you have to build trust. You can gain the trust of the customer as they think that you are one of their own culture or subcultures.

How can the university manage the influx of foreign students here? What dynamics of culture and diversity are in place?

I think that foreign students are the potential customers of the future for the universities in Hungary. The main point I want to make is that a kind of compromise is needed from both sides. The foreign students should learn that they are in a different culture so in some ways they need to adapt themselves to the circumstances of this culture. So, the macro environment can be different, for example the law, or society holds different norms or values; you shouldn’t be late or things like that.

And we lecturers, on the other hand, have to understand that they are coming from another cultural background so their beliefs and attitudes are different to what we are used to. I think all that needs time from both sides and we should be open and communicative. If there are problems, we should speak about it and discuss why it is not good.

I think culture and diversity are great, they present all of the students with an opportunity to open their mind. For example, the Hungarian students can make contact with the foreign students so they can practice and improve their English. They can also gain knowledge from the other culture and they can use this knowledge later on when they are working for a multi-national firm and they are going to be responsible for sales in Africa, for example. So that’s how the new cultures and diversity at the university can be seen to be very positive.

I have heard a lot recently about the University of Debrecen hoping to become one of the universities of excellence in Hungary. Does it deserve it and can it do it?

I think we can do it and we already have a good place on the list of universities. So, what we should do, in my opinion, is we should see teaching as a kind of service but the students should respect the lecturers and the professors. So there needs to be a balance, it’s quite difficult but I think we can manage it. But we also have to see it from an economic point of view, so we have to manage all those things. We should serve the students with knowledge as customers and we should suit the topics of the different lectures to the current market demand; that means to the competencies and knowledge the market needs. Should they have general or more specialised knowledge?

The other point is that we need to have more connections with businesses; with firms and organisations, to exchange ideas because they have the practical background and we have the theoretical background.

In my opinion that is how we can strengthen our position. Research centres would be good for firms and for all the stakeholders of the university. That is how we can offer our ‘customers’ up-to-date and practical knowledge, which would help them greatly as it would fit better to the demands of the market.

How do you draw from your experiences of living and working abroad and what have you learned from those times?

I have learned quite a lot of things and when I came home to Hungary, I had reverse culture shock. I think sometimes we should be more open to learn the good things from other cultures to make it profitable for us. I try to persuade the students at the university that they don’t have to be so framed in their ideas so they have to be more open to new things and new ideas, even if they have different ideas or they don’t agree. But this is how we can develop a better way, how new innovations are born, new ideas or technology. It is OK to accept other people’s opinions.

The one thing I very often miss from my time abroad is that even if you don’t agree with someone and you have a big disagreement or argument, afterwards you can go together and drink a beer. So here in Hungary we need to separate our private and business life and have a good relationship with our colleagues even if we have different opinions about the same topics or if we did not vote the same in the directory board or whatever. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like you it is just that I have a different opinion. I think that is why we have many problems in Hungary because we mix the two segments of private life and business together, it’s how we lose connections very quickly, especially in organisations.

One of the big questions in the research field is if we can summarise culture in dimensions or not…

What other advice can you give to anyone who would like to learn a little more about culture?

I would tell them to read some good books, for example there is a book by Nancy Adler; it’s called “International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior”. There are also many books in Hungarian as well as English, such as from Hill; “We Europeans”, although it is an older one it is interesting. And we still use the findings and knowledge of Hofstede.

One of the big questions in the research field is if we can summarise culture in dimensions or not, but I think it is the only way to make it tangible because otherwise it is quite difficult.

In my opinion the most important thing is to have connections with foreigners; that is the way you can learn about another point of view from your own culture. But it is up to the students to be pro-active and interactive and make contact with foreigners. So here at the university I ask my Hungarian students why they don’t make contact with the foreign students and they say “because they are different”, and of course I say that’s the point, that’s why these meetings could be interesting. If you think about your own culture being formed by many different sub-cultures, for example your mother and father are a different sub-culture and then, of course, you can see the different values and norms of your grandparents.

So, you read books, you can spend time with foreigners, you can visit a course on intercultural communications or you can find blogs or websites related to intercultural communication or you can join some courses where you learn about culture as well as another language. Or you can participate in different events, let me tell you just one example; the French Institute in Budapest organise different events from time to time where you can speak to people from France or Canada about different topics. So, the opportunities are there, it’s up to you to find them.

And to sum up, culture is not just about national culture, we should be thinking about individual culture; your own culture. You are part of the nation but there are also the subcultures, like which kindergarten you went to, or organizational culture, the university culture, department culture, group culture, or even if you are playing in a band the culture of the band will develop. There are so many different types of culture; culture is everywhere.

OK, this is my final question. What are the things that you do to develop your own cultural skills and awareness?

Well, what I do now and what I will always do is build networks of interesting people, who have special competencies, from whom I can learn something. I also strive to spend time abroad. With that I aim to practice foreign languages, to learn new things and to overcome my own barriers. And I try to be a modern, open-minded and up-to-date mother, teacher and woman.

We are all different and we have different dreams but what is most important in life is that we have to believe in ourselves and in our dreams. You may remember a TV commercial for an alcoholic drink, its message was very simple, but clear: “Live your life in such a way that, if they made a movie of it, it would be worth watching”.

With the kind permission of Dr. Krisztina Frankó