Internationalisation at home: a chance for every student

Travelling to Portugal to gain international experience? This kind of trip was not possible last year, of course, but at Avans University they did not let that stop them.
internationalisation at home

Students from the School of Social Work at Avans University of Applied Sciences worked in close collaboration with Portuguese students, lecturers and a group of homeless youth, whom they helped to find their place in society. All of this took place online, a textbook example of internationalisation at home. However, they also plan to visit each other ‘in real life’ as soon as they can.

Money problems, homelessness, mental health issues: there is a group of young people who struggle with so many different problems that aid agencies cannot always provide adequate help. Because this group sometimes disappears from the agencies’ radar, they are referred to as homeless youth. What is the best way to help this target group? Angèle Geerts, lecturer and international coordinator at the School of Social Work at Avans University of Applied Sciences, asked her students to tackle this question.

They could have done it with their textbook in hand, but Geerts had a better idea. She wanted the students to talk to the young people themselves. “When it comes to aid, so many things are developed for people, but I’m convinced that you can achieve much more if you involve them in the process. Young people often know exactly what they need and why the help they have received so far hasn’t been enough.” Students and youths were given an equal role in the project.

studenten in overleg

International

The project also had to include an international component. “For financial and practical reasons, many students don’t have the option to go abroad for a long period of time. But they still need to be able to gain international experience, if only because working in our field will increasingly involve collaborating with colleagues in other countries in the future.”

In the search for a collaboration partner, the Escola Superior de Educação de Paula Frassinetti in Porto, Portugal – a partner school of Avans – was a logical choice. “We already knew each other well, so we knew that we were on the same page; both of us were eager to innovate our curriculum. We set up the project within three months.”

The Social Work students first teamed up with students from the Communication programme and spent 10 weeks consulting with the youths from the target group to identify their needs. What do they need to find their place in society? The Dutch group shared its results with a similar group of Portuguese peers. They kept each other up to date on their progress through online correspondence and participated in workshops together.

“We already knew each other well, so we knew that we were on the same page; both of us were eager to innovate our curriculum. We set up the project within three months.”

Internationalisation at home

The project is a textbook example of internationalisation at home, says Sabrina Verheul, policy officer at Nuffic. Internationalisation at home allows students to develop international skills and intercultural competences without having to go abroad. International and intercultural elements are incorporated into the students’ study programme.

“There are lots of valuable aspects to the Avans project. The students engage in intensive online collaboration using innovative methods, and as the icing on the cake, both groups will eventually get to meet in person as well.” Nuffic works to connect various parties under the banner of internationalisation at home.

“Some educational institutions are further along in this regard than others. We want to help schools share good practices and learn from each other, so that no one has to reinvent the wheel.”

Accessibility

According to Verheul, the great value of internationalisation at home is the fact that it provides an accessible way for students to connect with people in other countries and gain an international perspective. “Internationalisation at home is extremely inclusive, in that it is accessible for all students. Everyone can develop international competences this way, such as learning to deal with cultural differences and engage in international collaboration. Students often also learn that their discipline is approached differently abroad.”

“For financial and practical reasons, many students don’t have the option to go abroad for a long period of time. But they still need to be able to gain international experience.” – Angèle Geerts

Angèle Geerts

Different views

Accordingly, one of Geerts’ goals was for her students to see how people in Portugal have a different view when it comes to aid efforts. “In the Netherlands, our approach tends to be quite assertive. The Portuguese take a more passive role, giving the client more space to share what he or she needs. Students saw that our approach is just one of the possibilities. A little of both is best, some said.”

The group also learned how to deal with cultural differences. “At the beginning of the project, our students noticed that the Portuguese group was a bit withdrawn. Sometimes, a Portuguese student wouldn’t answer or would simply go offline. We then started to discuss it together and figured out why that happened and how Dutch people and Portuguese people differ. The Communication students gave a workshop on collaboration methods that work for both groups.”

Meeting each other

If possible, both groups will meet each other in November. By then, each participant will have developed a product or activity that reflects his or her personal development during the project. The students will show which competences they have developed, and the youths will show what they have learned about themselves.

“One of the young people – who has been dealing drugs for a long time – is making a cookbook, for example. He has learned to take the qualities he previously used for dealing and use them to do something positive. Cooking is his hobby, and he was able to make an arrangement to pick up free groceries at local supermarkets so that he could cook for his entire group. This ties in perfectly with the ultimate goal of our project, as the idea from the beginning was for each participant to grow.”

Looking for more inspiration about internationalisation at home?

Check out our updated web pages for real-world examples and practical tips for setting up your own project: