"The students are very creative, they just need to conceptualise their ideas"
Harsh Chauhan is from India and works for the Department of Business and Regional Economics in the Faculty of European Studies at Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU), teaching International Advertising. He has been in Latvia for 2 years now and is also completing his PhD studies in Latvia. The guest lecturer shares his thoughts on the students, the study process and life here in general.
Please share with us the path that led you to Rīga Stradiņš University.
I’m from India – I have completed 3 years of Bachelor’s studies and after that I’ve been in the UK for my Master’s – I have a double Masters degree, one is from the University of Wales and the other is from Charles Sturt University. Here in Latvia I am pursuing my PhD with the BA School of Business and Finance – Doctorate of Business Administration. I’m also giving lectures there and here at RSU as well.
How did you find out about RSU – initially?
I was looking at the RSU website and there was an opportunity to fill this position and then I contacted the university directly. The department that I contacted – Department of Business and Regional Economics – told me there is an opportunity to deliver lectures on Advertising Management. I decided to take up the offer and I was referred to the programme director Henrijs Kaļķis, and that’s how I started teaching at RSU.
So you’ve been working at RSU for a number of years?
Almost 2 years now.
Which particular courses are you teaching at RSU?
I am teaching International Advertising here at RSU. I’m also teaching Business Administration, Sales Management at the BA School of Business and Finance and my academic expertise is in Marketing Management.
What is your own area of research?
For the time being I’m looking into team perspectives and I would like to explore sales management. Basically my research is related to how employers can coordinate well within a team and influence organisational performance.
And how far are you through your PhD?
I’m about to write my thesis – the proposal has been accepted by the university and I am in the process of finalising my research guide. It’s probably going to take two more years. I’m in consultation with two professors at the moment. One is from RISEBA and the other from Stockholm School of Economics in Riga.
What do you think of the students here at RSU?
There is a contrast between the first and second year. The first year students – they’re young and enthusiastic, ready to ask a lot of questions.
Usually Latvians are quite shy and keep to themselves…
You just need to let them open up – that’s what I believe! For me, the experience is quite fantastic – you need to put closures in your slides, so they need to question and look at what is missing in that, challenge their mentality and thinking. Concerning the Advertising Management course – it’s very creative, a very dynamic course in itself, it’s easier if you let them think for themselves.
Regarding advertising management, the possibilities are endless. The students are very creative, all they need is a direction, to conceptualise all their ideas and put them into an action plan. I find this subject much easier than other subjects – it’s very open, broad. I personally think that most of the students have creative ideas in their heads and they need a set of rules for how they can realise these ideas.
Harsh Chauchan lecturing at Rīga Stradiņš University. Photo from personal archive.
Do you find that they are similar or different to students in India?
As far as advertising management is concerned – I held a couple of lectures in different colleges in India and I did find a sharp contrast. Indians are probably a bit more creative because of the economy which is more diverse, with so many products and services being offered to the crowd and their exposure is much greater and they are more pro-active…but that’s because they’ve been exposed to a large and diverse range of media on a daily basis. I would say, in India either you prefer to be on top, or you end up as nothing.
There are students who are very smart, very intellectual and creative. If the students are laid back, they may not stand a chance. There is so much peer pressure, competition among themselves. The jobs are there, definitely, but they have to be the crème de la crème…there is no margin for error. Because the population is massive, you have to push yourself a lot.
You studied in the UK. Do you think that’s changed you and your attitude to teaching?
Yes, it has changed me a lot. I’ve also been teaching in the UK and over there, the students are very direct. They’re very focused and they need a logical explanation for every particular thing. They ask the questions – how, what, why, when? Sometimes it is hard to put some logic in advertising. It is required – but you need to balance it out. So if you have a perfect, logical statement and it has been used in an advertisement, it doesn’t guarantee a sale so these combinations need to be looked at in great detail.
And you’re saying sometimes it just boils down to intuition, a gut instinct?
There are examples where a script says something else, business objectives say something else but the sales are still climbing up. There are examples which I have come across where you need to justify exactly how this advertisement was executed.
And then there’s the analysis of the statistics as well...
Absolutely. During every six hour’s teaching session which I used to take, I always wanted to conceptualise all their thoughts and draft a real deal advertisement so they could feel how knowledge is applied in a practical situation and how the organisation can benefit from it.
So you’re focusing on the hands-on experience not just teaching the theory.
I believe that the theory you can learn from the internet, journals, books – but what’s the point of having that knowledge if you cannot apply it in the practical world?
How do you find the students – what’s their work ethic like? Their attitude towards their studies?
You always get a variety. Some of them are quite sharp, some don’t want to miss the deadlines, some really want to prove themselves, some are free-riders. You need to be encouraging and motivating and see a different side to them, trying to see the good in every student and push them and give them some motivation to work with.
So you have been living in Latvia for a while now?
I’ve been here most of the time for the past two years, because I’m here as a full-time student, and I’ve only been away for two to three months.
How do you find living in Latvia?
We are all human beings – it’s just a difference of culture and the way you behave, react. Latvia is in Europe, where you have so many languages and so many people who are influencing life and history has played a major part in forming Latvian culture. So although it is very welcoming, you have to blend in with regard to the culture, environment, people and their behaviour. I have no complaints as such – I have to adapt.
There must be a contrast between living in the UK and living in Latvia, even though it’s Europe, you can still sense something different …
Absolutely, I think the reason is that the UK is a multicultural society – you’ll find all nationalities there – American, Australian, Mexican, or Norwegian and the society and the people are very diverse. People are used to different cultures. So their level of acceptance and tolerance is greater, but as far as gelling is concerned, they are more used to this – more multicultural, compared to the Latvians…
How do you find the level of tolerance to other nationalities in Latvia?
You have to accept certain things – that you are different. For a period of time you feel, “OK…am I really welcome in this society or not?” Then the question you should be asking yourself is more along the lines – obviously I will stand alone. I belong to a different culture, a different society. No-one is going to give you space – you have to create your own. As far as discrimination or hatred is concerned, I don’t think it’s a big issue because you have all different kinds of people. I find myself very well settled in this system, within the Latvian culture. I’ve come to learn what is acceptable in this society, how you can be tolerated, what is the area where you can see yourself, you find the persons who you feel are likeable enough, you tend to spend more time with them, and leave others be.
Do you think Latvians are slowly becoming more tolerant?
Yes they are, I would say so. The younger generations are more likely to accept people from outside Latvia. It’s been a closed economy, they don’t have much exposure, they probably haven’t travelled a lot, maybe some of them have never been outside Europe. It’s all about your thinking – you need to travel and see that there are different places outside the Baltics. The Erasmus programmes are doing very as well as they give students a chance to see how other cultures are accepting of other nationalities…
As the generations change, the whole of society changes as well…
I think the leaders probably, they realise this is for a fact. Progress is slow, but I think it’s steady. There is no downside as such – it can only get better. They just need to accept and adapt to people from other nationalities.
Have you had opportunities to experience Latvian culture and the arts as well?
There are occasions when I’ve been to the opera, to cultural festivals, especially this year – the centenary anniversary of the founding year of Latvia. I’ve been lucky throughout the year, that I’ve been able to attend many cultural programs.
Were you here for the 18 November celebrations and the fireworks?
I even took part in the torchlight procession, so I’ve had a couple of experiences like this. Yes, the only thing you need to do is to get a Latvian miniature flag attached to your coat and a sense of patriotism and nationalism. I like that because a spirit of national integration has to be there, because they have to set an example.
So do you find there’s a healthy nationalism here?
Absolutely, I agree with that. Considering the situation here at the moment, you never know what’s going to happen. There are so many political pressures on Latvia. It’s better not to talk about the shadow of things – what is happening in the background. There are good prospects – it looks like Latvia is going to continue its development for coming decades.
What do you think of Rīga Stradiņš University in general?
This is stereotypically a medical university after all, and business management over here is not the university’s core subject area. But as RSU has started expanding its portfolio, people need to look at RSU in another way as well, not just for medical sciences. They need to break the stereotype, and they need to work more on this because if I speak to anyone outside or in Latvia and mention RSU – they instantly think of medical studies. They don’t realise there are management subjects and other faculties running programs.
Do you plan to continue giving lectures here?
I’m interested in continuing in the future, let’s see what the future holds.