Erasmus+ exchange experience

Ever since the announcement of the start of the Erasmus+ exchange program for the University of Aruba, students, faculty and staff, I was ready to jump onboard as it is an opportunity for professional growth, as well as a chance for benchmarking and comparing common academic practices.

While I looked into potential places for exchange, I decided to become an advocate for the program, emphasizing the benefits of international experience by talking to students from my faculty about the prospects of academic and personal growth they would profit from through exchange programs such as the Erasmus+.

The advocacy comes from my own experience studying and living abroad in different cities for almost eight years, which I can attest was a major role in shaping the person I have become. Moreover, spending time abroad broadens one’s horizon, and becomes a major element when considering networking with like-minded individuals.

April 28th, 2016 I boarded a plane with an agenda full of expectations, with plans to maximize my time by networking with Erasmus partners, meeting with a potential partner, and the exchange itself at Artevelde Hogeschool. Prior to my main destination which was Ghent, Belgium, I spent a day and a half in Hamburg, Germany, where I visited one of the UA partners EBS Hochschule. During the visit I learned more about their current programs, and future plans to expand programs so to open doors to more international exchange.

Who would have thought Aruba would be a major place of interest! The first week at Artevelde Hogeschool, was ‘International Days’, with lecturers from all over Europe, including Canada, the U.S., Brazil and Aruba in attendance. This was my first international lecturing experience. It was a very interesting first hand experience to meet and share with other lecturers, and notice that we do have some common ground, and similar stressful situations, but it was yet encouraging to receive and give feedback. Many lecturers inquired about the University of Aruba and the programs offered, and were very interested in exchange possibilities.

During the International Days, I presented two topics: ‘Changing marketing trends and its effect on culture and cultural shifts’ and ‘Consumers having the upper hand – understanding and building a stronger relation with the main stakeholders.’ Of course, it was different, as you are in a new setting with students you only meet once, so how do you keep them motivated and interested in your presentation? Like at the UA, the participation varied. During some sessions students were rather quiet and passive, while in other sessions participation was at a more desirable level. All international lecturers I spoke to had similar experiences with the students, yet we all remained positive about it.

The second week was spent in various second and third year classes, job shadowing, and giving a small assignment and giving feedback to third year students for their final project. With all the lecturers I discussed common practices and didactic concepts. For one course, ‘Marketing Management’, taught to two classes, I presented Aruban products from the company Tropical Bottling Company (TBC), or simply known by locals as Balashi. For their assignment they had to analyze four products, and discuss various marketing strategies (advertising and promotions) to introduce these to the Belgian market. The feedback was varied and was quite interesting, the concept and ideas of course varied from a projected outcome from UA-FEF students, as this was an international setting with students who were exposed to unfamiliar international products. Nonetheless, the ideas were great, and taken seriously.

While spending time in classes at Artevelde Hogeschool during the second week in Belgium, there was just enough time for additional visits. I visited Thomas More campus in Geel. Thomas More is already an Erasmus+ partner with the UA, though a visit was good to keep the current ties warm. It was also an opportunity to discuss current and future exchange traffic between Thomas More and UA students. The second academic visit was in Antwerp, at Karel de Grote Hogeschool at their campus: Stadscampus – Groenplaats. This was a successful visit. The representatives from Karel de Grote Hogeschool expressed great interest in partnering with the UA.

During the two weeks, I was also in touch with our FEF students who were on exchange  in Hamburg and Ghent, and I inquired about their experiences. Their positive outlook and growth was obvious. This experience and independency clearly caused a certain development of confidence and maturity. The Erasmus+ exchange, if not profited from, is a lost opportunity for seeing first hand how other academic settings function. In making use of such opportunities for faculty and staff, it not only offers growth, but offers experiences one could take away and use as a comparative view on one’s own setting. In the case of students, you can only profit from this experience, as you will gain academic and personal growth!

Marushka Andrews