Student perspective: I learned how to work with a group which I might not agree with at all times.
Today (former) students Marie-Laure Snijders, Soham Nanwani and Nina Bode from the University of Twente share their VIS-experience. Marie-Laure (now a recent graduate) helped develop a module on intercultural competences as part of the honors program management team. Soham partook in the module and will help organize the next run of the course together with Marie-Laure and Nina. We meet them at the VIS-event, November 9 (2023) in Groningen, where they openly share their experiences, struggles and lessons with us.
The project: 6 countries join forces to develop intercultural competences
The intercultural competences micro module is a very short course of 2 FACETS, which was created in collaboration with the European Consortium of the Universities (ECIU). This year 6 countries collaborated in the VIS-project: France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Lithuania. The project was initially aimed to run twice a year, for twelve weeks and started in February 2022. The intake aim was about 30 students, but 130 students applied. Because of this enthusiastic response, the module will probably be organized once a year for logistical feasibility.
Learning goal: Learn from other cultures and continuously improve yourself
For the micro module, they designed their own wheel of facets that are related to intercultural competences. At the start of the module students fill in a development acceleration journey, which is a tool where they can choose a facet they want to work on and will develop throughout the module. After 12 weeks students have hopefully managed to improve in one or 2 of those facets that they were targeting. The module is introductory, and at the end students understand how they can learn from cultures and continuously improve themselves.
Learnings: accept differences and merge those into one vision
Students are mixed as much as possible with students from other universities and purposely given a very loose and flexible project. This leads to group discussions in which everyone has a different perspective. Students need to adapt and overcome their cultural and practical differences and figure out by themselves how to do this.
They run into trouble, hopefully. We hope they experience that there are very clear differences in how these students approach things.
I learned how to work with a group which I might not agree with at all times. And how to accept the different opinions and try to merge all the different opinions and perspectives in one coherent idea, which the whole group can come along with. I learned that if not everyone agrees on the final product, you’re not going to get the most out of everyone in the project.
Challenges: freedom of CBL, communication issues and conflicts
Challenge based learning (CBL) is used as the educational framework for the module. In Enschede this way of working is more common. But in most universities students are used to a more structured way of working. Some students struggle with the freedom that they are given and seek reassurance. Evaluation of the course points out a lot of communication issues and conflicts in the student groups. There are also some students who don’t speak English that well, or have technical issues, making it hard for them to fully participate in the group.
The hardest part is that you’re literally just given a prompt, and you’re meant to just figure it out. And also, that you have to find a solution collaboratively. Obviously, that’s going to lead to different perspectives, different opinions and you have to learn how to discuss those and how to overcome them.
Coaching to help resolve issues and reflect
During the module students partake in coaching sessions. The coaching sessions are meant to discuss the issues that have come up. Coaches help students reflect on what they are experiencing and how it relates to what they wanted to learn. The student is put in the driver’s seat.
Tips for students who are going to do a VIS project: overall learning goal, motivation & attitude
Nina: What we see is that students are very focused on their project. But what we actually try to achieve is intercultural competencies. So, try to see the higher level of what we’re trying to do and what we actually want to learn from.
Soham: Be motivated, want to develop and work together. Ideally you want everyone in the module to feel motivated and feel like they can develop if they put in the effort and the time.
Marie-Laure: Attitude. On the one hand it would be great if students have that learning mindset if they come on, but on the other hand that’s sort of the outcome that you aim for. At least be open to talk about why you are behaving this way.
Tips for organization: support for coaches
There are a lot of coaches in the program, who are given a lot of workshops. They are already experts on coaching or intercultural coaching. But the virtual aspect is a new scenario for them.
At the beginning of the Ukrainian war, we had a Ukrainian and Russian student, and there was a clash. And it’s not easily solvable, especially when you’re talking about culture. Even an experienced coach just doesn’t know what to do in this situation.
So as part of the organization they also provide support in the form of a peer group for coaches. Coaches can engage in workshops and bring anything to the peer group, making sure they are not alone in the struggles that they face.
Part 2: Local deep dive
The course has since been expanded and adapted. There is now also mobility at the end, which is separate from the module. In this so-called part 2, is an in-depth deep dive into one culture and connecting to students on site.