A new exchange agreement was signed between ESCI-UPF and the University of Surrey Business School last September. The agreement was developed by the International Relations departments of both universities and was originally facilitated by Irina Cojuharenco, a senior lecturer at the University of Surrey that is a PhD graduate of UPF and has a close relation with ESCI-UPF.
With this agreement, ESCI-UPF reaches a total of 34 destinations and 122 places open for academic exchanges in 2019-20 and fulfills the objective to include a reputed institution of the UK as an exchange destination under the Erasmus+ program, for both students and faculty members.
Students from both schools have already been nominated to visit respective partner institutions the coming academic year. In the meantime, the very first exchange has taken place already during the last week of February, when I have had the chance of visiting and teaching at the University of Surrey Business School. This visit has been the second occasion I have participated in an Erasmus exchange as a lecturer, after my one week visit at Reutlingen University in 2015. Both experiences, the German and the English, have been extremely enjoyable and enriching.
As unknown to many as it may be, we, the teaching staff also have the great opportunity to enjoy an Erasmus+ exchange!
The activities undertaken during the Erasmus+ staff mobility for teaching program are of the utmost interest for the partner institutions as well as for the faculty members both at a professional and personal level. Despite the requirement to undertake a minimum of 8 hours of lectures at the host institution, the experience goes far beyond the classroom time.
«For an external international observer, Surrrey University appears to be a flexible, non-hierarchical, external and market oriented organization»
Needless to say, participating in designing and developing lectures to be conducted at a partner institution is both challenging and enriching. Since the content taught is usually an integral part of an existing course at the partner institution, the sessions are guided by the professor in charge of the module. This can be achieved in different ways. In Germany, I was the person to develop all the materials of the lectures on the topic of inferential statistics. In Surrey, the materials and the overall development of the sessions were managed by the module conveners/lecturers of the three sessions in which I participated: two on individual decision making and a third session on organizational culture.
Regardless of whether the module is led by the visiting or the host lecturer, its development requires an exchange of views concerning the teaching approach, which allows experimenting with and sharing learning practices that enhance our teaching competences. In Surrey I have taken part in classes with quizzes in the form of treasure hunts, participative case study analyses, decision-making simulations, in-class debates and competitions. Learning about the application of these techniques to specific topics has been in itself of great value.
Despite the fact that we in ESCI-UPF are very much used to interacting with classes of diverse backgrounds and geographical origins, the contact with such a group of students in a novel environment provides a unique experience. Communication strategies, which need to take into account cultural as well as linguistic aspects, are to be adapted to the teaching context and the methodologies being used, which enhances our teaching skills. I would describe the groups of students that I have met in Surrey as very participative and keen to engage in in-depth discussion and interactive class methodologies.
Mercè Roca meets Corinne Nolze, Faculty Mobility Administrator at the Global Engagement Office and students visiting ESCI-UPF next academic year. / Photo: Mercè Roca
I believe that students of the partner institution also benefit from the participation of an external lecturer in the classroom. It exposes them to a different communication and lecturing style which at the same time stresses for them the relevance of being open to having international experiences for building their skills and competencies. This was especially the case in the organizational culture class in which I participated. During the class, we discussed the competing values framework which proposes a classification of organizations depending on their degree of flexibility and internal-external focus. To exemplify that such classification is perspective dependent, we analysed my perception of Surrey University as an educational institution. Based on my interaction with the staff and students and my observation of the campus environment I shared the view that, for an external international observer with a relatively recent and brief experience of the organization, Surrrey University appears to be a flexible, non-hierarchical, external and market oriented organization. This led us to reflect on how a distanced first impression might be somewhat different from how organizations are perceived from within. I would like to think that my participation in the class was not only beneficial for the particular views I could contribute but it also ultimately acted as a motivator for the students to engage in international experiences themselves.
«I have had the chance of sharing and discussing lines of research and teaching experiences which might create synergies in the future»
Beyond the classes, the Erasmus+ experience allows faculty members to expand our network of professional contacts. During my visits in Reutlingen and Surrey, I have had the chance of meeting lecturers in my areas of expertise, shared and discussed lines of research and teaching experiences which might in the future create synergies for collaborative work. In turn, I have met professors who have expressed an interest to visit ESCI-UPF as guest lecturers themselves and have been able to discuss which topics in their domain of expertise might be of most value to our programs.
At the level of the organization, faculty exchanges reinforce the cooperation of the partner institutions. In Surrey, I had the chance to personally meet the Associate Dean for Internationalization Professor Dr Marco Mongiello and Dr Yuanyuan Huo, the newly appointed Exchange coordinator. Also, a session with outgoing students from Surrey was organized by Corinne Nolze, Faculty Mobility Administrator at the Global Engagement Office. In this gathering I met the students preparing to visit ESCI-UPF in the coming year and was able to orient them with regards to the contents of the GNMI courses they could choose and other practicalities concerning their stay in Barcelona.
To sum up, on top of the teaching experience, the activities and meetings that take place during the faculty exchanges enhance the international cooperation between institutions and promote an increase of the quality and quantity of student and staff mobility to and from the partner institutions. The internationalization of ESCI-UPF is certainly of strategic importance for our school. Collaborating with international institutions allows organizational learning and improvement, widening the possibilities of our students and faculty and acquiring knowledge and specific know-how from good practices abroad. At a personal level, participating in an international academic exchange is a unique opportunity that neither students nor faculty members should miss.