Internationalisation at home: “You don’t need to do it all by yourself”

The internationalisation at home approach 'makes it possible for students to gain international competences.' But how do you facilitate this, structurally?
Posted by Sang-Ah Yoo
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How can you make internationalisation at home a regular feature, so that enjoyable international activities have a lasting effect, and their importance is recognised?

Anouk Vermeulen, project leader at Nuffic, explains how it’s done: “The main thing is that the whole set-up is coherent: it’s not about separate international activities but about connecting these with things like learning objectives, examinations and the learning materials you offer. We see how institutions go about this in different ways, and practical examples are often an inspiration for other people.” This time we’re turning the spotlight on Da Vinci College and Utrecht University.

All students

Ask about her ambitions, and Jolanda van de Lagemaat gives an enthusiastic answer. “In my sector I want to offer all my students an international experience. Internationalisation at home is a good way to help me achieve this,” says the Health and Welfare lecturer at Da Vinci College, curriculum expert and international coordinator. “Every student can acquire international competences without physically having to travel abroad,” she says.

To give one example, students of the Citizenship course get acquainted with various cultures in a low-threshold manner through the Globi-Trotter board game. And when a lecturer from abroad visits Da Vinci College as part of job shadowing, the college always asks whether they would be willing to give a guest lecture. “Besides offering students new insights, this also encourages them to speak English.”

International competences

Da Vinci College has more than 9,000 students. Of these, about five percent embarks on a physical international exchange or work placement. Van de Lagemaat continues: “There are hundreds of reasons why students don’t go abroad.”

Nonetheless, the college aims to train internationally competent students – and teachers. It’s no coincidence that the strategic policy plan is entitled Education without Borders. “As a student at our college, you are trained as a world citizen and you work in a globalising world. Our students soon become flexible, enterprising and willing to tackle challenges. This increases their chances on the job market.” Internationalisation at home is one of the many ways of acquiring such international competences.

The path to implementation

But how do you facilitate internationalisation at home in structurally? How do you ensure continuity and quality and in this way emphasise the importance of internationalisation?

“Some of our teams are still struggling with these questions,” says Van de Lagemaat. An educational innovation process has just been completed in the sector. “Working on the basis of Nuffic materials, we establish what competences we lack in our current education offering and where international activities can make a contribution, such as the open perspective that you require when working with people in the multicultural society.”

The school applies modular teaching, created in consultation with an educational developer. “This expert works with a list of criteria which states, for instance, that each module must have an international component. It’s useful to have a list like this. It forces you to consider questions such as: is this activity assured within the curriculum? Do we devote attention to the international context in terms of the work process? As a result, we are working as a team towards internationalisation at home.”

Virtual exchange

It’s still early days for Utrecht University when it comes so internationalisation at home, admits Tamar Aprahamian. Among other things, she is policy adviser for internationalisation at the Faculty of Science.

“We aim to be an international university. Just about all Master’s programmes at our faculty are taught in English. But a quarter of the students who study Master’s programmes are from abroad, just like 40 percent of our researchers and lecturers.” Despite this, “we see only a small percentage of our students going abroad for an exchange. It was only after the pandemic that the university started examining the possibilities for virtual exchange to give more students the chance to acquire international experience.”

In that context, Utrecht University participated in the pilot for this together with various European universities and made sure that international lecturers were asked to give online guest lectures more often. “The great advantage of internationalisation at home is that it’s a sustainable activity. This means a decrease in the amount of flights by our students and staff. You don’t need to keep flying abroad.”

“Working with people from different cultural backgrounds gives new and diverse perspectives.”

-Tamar Aprahamian, policy adviser for internationalisation at the Faculty of Science at Utrecht University.

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Autism research

Aprahamian says internationalisation at home is really taking off. The driving force behind this trend is Ferdi Engels, lecturer-researcher in Pharmaceutical Sciences and Director of the Undergraduate School of Science at Utrecht University. He gained international experience himself while working in Portugal for several years. “I found this experience so instructive and enriching that I thought: I wish everyone else an experience like this It gives you new and diverse perspectives when you meet and work with people who have a cultural background that differs from your own.”

This motivates Engels to develop a new online course in which Utrecht students work together with peers from the University of Leeds on an assignment. “Suppose you are diagnosed with autism. What kind of healthcare would be desirable and necessary in this case? And what are the differences and similarities while looking at this in the Netherlands and in the United Kingdom? And moreover: how easy it is for a person with autism to attend a normal school?”

Aprahamian says with a laugh: “Ferdi was already engaged in virtual exchange before he even knew it had a name: COIL, or Collaborative Online International Learning.” Engels: “I started this course independently. Shortly afterwards I met Tamar, who passed on her enthusiasm for COIL. Now it’s a shared passion.”

Toolbox at home

Passion will get you a long way but it’s not the answer to everything, as those involved also notice. “You must ensure that internationalisation at home doesn’t depend on the efforts of just one enthusiastic lecturer,” says Van de Lagemaat. “So get other lecturers on board and give them the assistance they need.”

Currently the college is working on Build@Home, an Erasmus+ project involving cooperation with ROC Nijmegen and senior secondary vocational education schools in countries such as Spain and Finland. “It’s about a method for implementing internationalisation at home. By putting the focus not on the activities, but by starting with the question of ‘why?’. Why do you want to use the approach for this target group? What qualities do you want to strengthen in the students, and how can an international activity in your own environment contribute to this? Considering questions like these also teaches you to slow down in the hectic world of education.” The toolbox should be ready in June 2023.

“You must ensure that internationalisation at home doesn’t depend on the efforts of just one enthusiastic lecturer.”

- Ferdi Engels, lecturer-researcher in Pharmaceutical Sciences and Director of the Undergraduate School of Science at Utrecht University.

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A bottom-up approach is essential for anchoring internationalisation at home, says Engels. As a lecturer you don’t have to do it all by yourself – you can seek contact with curriculum developers or policy advisors for internationalisation. “There are Special Interest Groups at this university where staff regularly meet to work on a shared interest. One of these groups focuses on internationalisation at home. Our enthusiasm on this theme is taking others along and we’re acquiring new ideas.”

COIL evangelism

Lecturers who want to start working with internationalisation at home and COIL can count on the support of a brand-new training course. Aprahamian explains: “You have education specialists at your side, and experienced experts like Ferdi tell you how they tackle the issues. You don’t have to take a whole course right away – a smaller module is possible, too.”

Aprahamian has been a COIL ‘evangelist’ for the last 2½ years. “With the aim of getting it on the agenda within the faculty and further afield. To make it visible, to promote awareness, to tell people about all the possibilities. Sometimes I think: this is going way too slow. But my enthusiasm is just as strong as ever.”

Engels adds: “I can truly say: internationalisation at home isn’t difficult. Colleagues often say they’d like to make a start in this area, but they don’t know how. Just take small steps, such as seeking out like-minded people or inviting an international guest lecturer online. There are many ways of realising Internationalisation at home.”

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