The title of the exchange week was “Teamwork and Collaboration in a University Context” and it was promoted for both academic and professional support staff as an opportunity for partnership and collaborative training. This event was a “BIP” or Blended Intensive Programme, which meant there were online sessions both before and after the week, five days of face-to-face activities, as well as being ‘blended’ through disciplinary and professional integration by the participants. Forty four individuals from 19 European countries were in attendance and came from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, such as engineering, education, accounting, nursing, technology, international mobility teams, and student support services within institutions.
The week was filled with activities, from networking, presentations, workshops and visits – including to the European Parliament in Strasbourg! Jamie writes about this particular visit:
“Following a presentation from an MEP, we had the opportunity to sit in on a parliament session. We quietly filed into the top rows of the circular chamber and listened (via headsets) to what was being said on the floor. On the day I visited, they were debating about the introduction of a digital Euro.
What struck me most was how truly international an institution the EU is. I witnessed 27 different countries working together to make decisions that impact the millions of citizens they represent. The MEP’s speak different languages, come from different cultures, and represent political parties across the spectrum. Yet, they can effectively communicate and collaborate.
I couldn’t help but draw parallels to our own group of 44 participants representing universities from 17 different countries (including individuals from as far away as India and the USA). We spent the week working together and getting to know one another. We connected as professionals and individuals, building a strong foundation for international cooperation amongst our universities. Learning from my international colleagues and taking the time to understand their perspectives was an enriching experience for me.”
Jane also reflected on a cultural workshop later that week:
“We had a half day training session on “Working in Cross Cultural Teams” which was facilitated by Verena Brenner, a consultant for Esslingen University, and was an interactive and engaging session that offered us the opportunity to reflect on our own biases and stereotypes about other international countries. The session was designed to deepen our understanding on cross-cultural communication and collaboration in a university context and initially involved us considering where we come from and what types of backgrounds we have – as well as how they differ. I reflected upon my own Irish identity in this session, despite being based in a UK institution, and how I have adapted how I present myself to my colleagues in order to ‘fit in’ with British cultures and practices. At one point we worked in groups on a card game, where different colleagues had to move groups at regular intervals but discovered the ‘rules’ of the game had changed as they moved. This subtle task underlined to us how often it is the unspoken words that are assumed to be understood by all, yet can vary enormously between us. The benefits and opportunity of international and intercultural collaboration were discussed and shared between the group at the conclusion. I found this activity to be engaging, reflective and enjoyable.”
“Personally I had such an amazing week it is difficult to find one highlight. As well as the cultural workshop, which made me reflect on both challenges and lessons to take back to my teaching practice and research teams, a social highlight was our international night. At this event the students, staff and guests brought dishes and sweet treats from their respective countries. Thankfully I smelt Durian and had ‘tried’ it before so didn’t get duped, but I have to say everything else – particularly the American students’ peanut putter and jell-o sandwiches washed down with Jack Daniels – were delicious!”
For Jane and Terri, not only were they participating in the training week but they also travelled to Munich whilst there to visit with colleagues at Munich Police and discuss potential research collaborations. They were warmly welcomed by head of criminal investigations, Alex Horn, and discussed developing opportunities in the field of hate crime and right-wing extremism.
It was clear that our hosts had spent a great deal of effort designing an engaging and stimulating week for us all. All of the activities provided strong links to BU’s values of inclusivity, creativity and excellence. The focus was not just on enhancing student success but also inter-group successes too. International partnership opportunities are evidently beneficial on every level – from the BIP right through to the European Parliament!