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Enriching Cooperation with Suriname: An International Perspective on Research and Education 

Eugenie Waterberg and Roy Gigengack, both lecturers at Utrecht University, set up an ambitious project with Anton de Kom University in Suriname. The aim: to strengthen intercultural competences and encourage multiperspectivity. In this real-life VIS story, we take a look behind the scenes of this challenging project, in which several obstacles were overcome to provide a valuable learning experience for Dutch and Surinamese students. 

Goal-oriented project: strengthen intercultural competence 

The aim of the project was clearly defined: to encourage multiperspectivity by the students and enhance their intercultural competence. Multiperspectivity here refers to the ability to reflect on one’s own perspective, one’s own assumptions, trying to look at things from different angles, and trying to empathise with the perspective of the person you are engaging in dialogue with (empathy).     

Roy Gigengack also highlights the importance of internationalisation: “It is the only project I know of where internationalisation was the goal and the language of instruction was Dutch.” 

This was to be achieved through collaboration between Dutch and Surinamese students, where they would work together to research social problems analysed from various perspectives. Unfortunately, logistical challenges brought changes to the original plans, but the focus on collaboration and intercultural understanding remained central. 

Cooperation and perseverance 

The original idea was a collaboration between the departments of Sociology and Cultural Anthropology of Utrecht University and Anton de Kom University. However, logistical challenges with academic calendars caused a second thoughts. Eventually, the project was carried out with the departments of Public Administration and Sociology at Anton de Kom University. Nevertheless, the teachers managed to extend the collaboration to the Public Administration department, allowing the project to go ahead. This shows the flexibility and determination of those involved to overcome obstacles. Six Dutch and five Surinamese students actively participated in the literature review, with preparation and collaboration from January till August. 

Social research: diverse perspectives  

Implementing the project required intensive preparation, involving teachers in curriculum adjustments and the alignment of academic calendars. Also in preparation and mutual supervision and assessment of scripts. The project involved literature review, online working groups, and eventually empirical research in Suriname. The project offered students the opportunity to jointly research social problems from various perspectives.  

On the one hand, Roy’s students researched local knowledge about medicinal herbs, the emotions of climate activists in Suriname, the social mobility of Maroon women in urban areas. And on the other hand, Eugenie’s students researched migration and diaspora policies; The challenges of a changing world on the village of Pikin Slee; Women’s participation in the agricultural sector. 

Interaction and learning experiences  

The interaction between Dutch and Surinamese students led to eye-openers and broadening of perspectives.   

There were a lot of great moments where you actually notice that students contributed to broadening their perspectives.

– Eugenie Waterberg  

The project provided learning experiences not only for students, but also for the teachers, who gained valuable insights into each other’s academic worlds. This highlights the importance of such collaborative projects in a globalising world.  

I myself also learnt a lot from the contact with the Surinamese colleague. They talked a lot about their country and how things work there.  That was very interesting.

– Roy Gigengack  

Of course, the project also brought challenges, such as technical difficulties, logistical constraints and the search for accessible literature. The teachers highlight that the collaboration continued to grow and blossom. There are even future plans for more international collaborations.  

Another challenge was also accessible literature especially Surinamese literature. The University of Suriname do not have an online library so a lot of theses or research papers students could not obtain online.

– Eugenie Waterberg 

Valuable insights  

Roy Gigengack, curious from the start how things would turn out, thinks the project has become a valuable experience precisely because of its complexity. Eugenie Waterberg shares the ambitions, emphasising the crucial role of internationalisation in preparing students for the complex, globalising world. Both lecturers share detailed tips for future cross-border collaborations, highlighting that anticipating challenges and involving students in the preparation phase are essential. The project showed that international cooperation is not free from obstacles, but these obstacles can be overcome with dedication and flexibility.  

In an increasingly connected world, the value of such projects is clear. The experience of this cooperation in Suriname provides an inspiring example for other educational institutions striving for international cooperation and intercultural understanding. It is a step towards a global network of knowledge exchange and cooperation, preparing students for the complex challenges of the future.