Internationalisation has many faces

Travelling is (right now) not an option. Rob Maat of the International office is working hard on developing different kinds of internationalisation.

For Rob Maat, the crisis started around November, December of last year. That’s when the first messages of an outbreak in Wuhan came in. That region was soon marked orange (only travel when strictly necessary) by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “You look it up: Wuhan, where on earth is that? We saw that our student closest to Wuhan was at least 1000km away, in Shanghai. But the epidemic spread to other cities and we contacted that particular student and advised them to come back home. After that, the situation moved to the north of Italy.”

You know that soon the rest of Italy will follow.
We took a hard look at each other and decided to warn each and every student abroad via a bulk email. Look around you! Monitor your situation carefully! One by one the borders are closing and you do not want to be stuck! After that, it all went very fast. At some point, the whole world was marked orange.

How do you look back on your ‘total recall’? 
It was a feat of pure teamwork. We could have never acted this quickly and aptly without the international coordinators from the divisions, who, much like the International Office, were working almost 24/7 to reach students through, mail, phone or WhatsApp groups. The Executive Board also acted fast and right away we had a help desk where students could ask for a refund on their tickets. All in all, it was truly a collaborative effort and a positive result we can be proud of as Windesheim.

The decision to cancel all trips abroad for the rest of the year was a quick one.
We warned the Executive Board in an early stage: many students are already planning their study programmes or internships abroad, booking tickets etc. But there is complete uncertainty whether or not they can actually go. Do we want them to commit to this? Luckily the Board understood it was unwise to let the students do so.

That’s incredibly unfortunate for many students.
Definitely. Experiences abroad are a magnificent way to enhance your knowledge and skills, but I’m happy we made a clear decision in an early stage.

Are you still in contact with foreign partner institutions? How are they dealing with this?
Actually, our contact has strongly improved over the past few weeks. They are struggling with the same dilemma: what forms of internationalisation can we utilise now? Together we are developing innovative alternatives in the next semester. Obviously, studying abroad for a semester is the ultimate experience, but internationalisation has many faces. For example, we are trying to find a way for our students so they can virtually experience being abroad. They might join an online guest lecture from a lecturer in Spain or Bangladesh or they might team up with students from Switzerland or Denmark on assignments in a virtual break out room. There are developments regarding online education in almost every country and it offers countless possibilities to bring ‘being abroad’ into your own study room. For now, we see a lot more online mobility than physical mobility. It would be great if we at Windesheim could join that trend.

Do you have any tips for people going abroad?
Even though some countries have been marked yellow (a few risks), do not start planning new trips right away. So don’t book tickets, plan insurances, vaccinations and other related things that cost you, costs you cannot get refunded when your trip gets cancelled. Luckily many students have space in their curriculum to move things about so they can have this experience some other time.

What does this mean for the International Office?
It doesn’t change much for us. Of course, we won’t have any foreign students in Zwolle and no students of ours abroad next semester. On the other hand, the nomination and sign-up procedures for groups who want to study abroad in the spring of 2021 have started. We are not sure if they can definitely go and we’ll have to wait and see, but we do hope so. Many of our processes also continue online. Recently we have been having online consultation hours and the preparations for the Go Abroad Fair are all offered digitally.

Are you going on holiday?
No, I’m staying home this year.

Text: Marcel Hulspas
Photo: Herman Engbers 

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