EXPERIENCE 18 – “One of the best Staff Development activities I have completed”
Posted: 14 February, 2018
I knew nothing about Erasmus until my Head of School told me about a wonderful experience he had teaching in Germany. He was very convincing and this encouraged me to try and participate in the scheme if I could. After making some initial enquiries about the application process our International Engagement Office informed me of an opportunity to participate in an ‘International Week’ in Saxion Hogeschole, Enschede, Netherlands and I signed up. It was an experience I will never forget.
As I was a new academic I was uncertain of what to expect but the Saxion team were fabulous hosts and gave lots of advice both in advance of the trip and during it. I was one of a multi-national team of visiting staff who gave lectures and workshops to undergraduate Business students during an organised ‘International Week’. Students could choose from a diverse range of topics presented by a group of motivated lecturers who presented their ideas from their home perspectives. During breaks in my own schedule I sat in on some of the other visiting staff’s classes including a Polish colleague demonstrating the subtle influences of televisual advertising, a Spanish colleague explaining the power of perception when selling across borders, and a Swiss lecturer use the chocolate business to explain international trading. I found Dutch students were curious and interested participating energetically in my classes and workshops. The formal classroom teaching was well organised by the host college, fun, different and memorable. However, the real learning took place outside of class.
Whilst engaging new students in a new context was rewarding the trip provided me with so much more. I had the opportunity to meet with and work alongside so many interesting, motivated and smart people. The opportunity to live in a new college setting for a short period enabled me to compare it to my home college’s setting. Everyone openly swapped stories about their colleges, courses and classrooms. I learned that many of the frustrations I faced back in my home college were also being experienced by my international colleagues which was strangely comforting. More importantly, as I listened to the experiences of others, walked the corridors of the modern campus and chatted with students about their college lives I also gained a deeper appreciation of all the things we do very well in Ireland and in my home college.
Outside of college we had some great fun too. Each night our band of travelling academics broke bread and it was during these relaxed meals that the cultural benefits of Erasmus were most obvious. Conversations rambled from heated discussions about politics, to the importance of language skills, to youth unemployment and an ageing Europe, to US-Euro relations and to football. Opinions varied and each person spoke openly about life and living in their home country.
I returned to GMIT energised, more tolerant, and full of ideas for improvements. My own students have benefited from my Erasmus experience as I have experimented with new teaching and learning approaches and methods observed in Enschede. My biggest success has been to organise a joint International Week in GMIT where I invited a team of visiting staff to come and deliver lectures and workshops to my students. This has led to an increased number of students seeking to study abroad for a semester this year.
Making space in the academic year to complete an Erasmus week was one of the most impactful staff development activities I have completed. I found it professionally satisfying and personally rewarding and I enthusiastically recommend it.