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T@UU abroad: a sneak peek into teaching life abroad with Erasmus+

Assistant professor and T@UU council member Marij Swinkels spent some time at a different university and shares her tips and experiences of going abroad for a short visit in this blog.

When the new academic year was approaching last summer, I was enjoying time off with my kid and partner in the USA. A trip we had long looked forward to as we were going to visit friends who moved to California, but were also anxious for after two years of zero travels because of COVID and traveling overseas with a toddler.

The reality was that we enjoyed every minute of it, and while I was roaming the campus at UC Berkeley (my friend had moved there for a postdoc), an idea popped into my mind. Maybe we could go abroad for some time and experience life at a different campus. It would for sure be a worthy experience to immerse ourselves into a different country and academic system.

And, as goes with ideas in my mind, I tried to turn this one into a reality in the weeks and months that followed. My partner, also an academic, and myself both had no teaching obligations in our third period. And my academic research? We could just do it anywhere (no labs or special equipment needed, a simple VPN helps us to get to work anywhere).

As we spent our flight credit in summer, we wanted to find a spot relatively close to home. I quickly settled on the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, as a professor there is working on very similar stuff as I am, and I thought it would be nice to learn from him. But also, because it is an institution that I always felt was remarkably different from our own university, residing in the hills of Florence and (only) home to a few MA programmes and a doctoral programme. Quite the difference from our 58 BA programmes and 155 MA programmes and campus full of students. My partner settled on Uppsala University in Sweden, as their department of conflict studies is home to a big database on conflict and he wanted to get trained in using this database.

So far for how we got to this decision, let me share a couple of insights or ideas to get to work if you are walking around with the same idea:

  1. JUST DO IT. Really, one of the perks of our type of work is that this can be arranged relatively easy and lowkey! You just have to do it! (And of course, have supervisors that like your idea, but I still have to meet the first one who doesn’t)
  2. Check short stay visiting opportunities at universities abroad. EUI, my host institution, was very well organised for short stay visitors (we could even make use of their creche service). If you’re unsure where to go: think about that one educational programme you read about that you find interesting, or about that one academic who’s work inspired you, or that one place you read about that seems so different from your work.
  3. Don’t hesitate to reach out to an academic if you want to go somewhere. Most people are eager to host you (think about what you would do if you received such an e-mail, that’s most likely)
  4. Realise that it is relatively easy to get funding for short stay visitorships! My plans came too late to apply for our faculty funds for a visiting fellow stay abroad, but luckily the Erasmus+ staff mobility programme was still an option to apply to. This programme runs continuously and has no application deadlines as far as I know. Furthermore, you can apply for funding for as little as one and as much as 60 days. It was great to use this programme again, ten years after my Erasmus+ student mobility programme. The International Office of my faculty was most helpful in getting this organised. My experience is that the Erasmus+ staff mobility grant is underused, whereas it can be just the type of funding you need if you want to take a sneak peek into educational and research life somewhere else. It’s rules may look rather strict and non-fitting, but the international office of your faculty can advise if your idea could work for this grant.
  5. Don’t set overambitious goals but let yourself be surprised by a new city and campus. If you go for a month: don’t think you will come back with a fully finished draft of a new book or a fully redesigned Ba or Ma programme proposal, but acknowledge that gaining new insights and ideas is effective work time too. And most importantly: reserve enough time for coffees or lunches with staff abroad to learn from them and exchange ideas!

As a final point, I wanted to share a couple of insights and experiences that this stay abroad gave me (except for good Italian food):

  1. For our department specifically, the opportunity to learn how other institutions combine higher education to executive education and as such link practitioners’ experience to student teaching.
  2. The opportunity to try out and play educational games (in my case) about future proof public policy with people from all over the world and use these insights for my own teaching and research.
  3. A quiet place in a beautiful library to get my mind focused and able to work on new research and teaching plans.
  4. Potential new collaborations in teaching between my department and the host institution.
  5. New network connections that I’m sure will be used in the years to come.
  6. New insights that I can use in my own teaching by observing the teaching and training at the host institution on similar topics and methodologies I teach on at UU.
  7. An opportunity to wonder around the city of Florence and taking time to think about new ideas for my own teaching and research.
  8. And last but not least: A wonderful experience for my family that I will remember forever.

All in all: I would strongly recommend any academic looking for a lowkey and interesting short stay abroad to do this with the help of the Erasmus+ staff mobility programme. Collectively, this will help to improve the quality of our own education here at UU and create new connections with scholars who teach abroad!

Let me know if you want to know more, I’d be happy to talk about getting organised.

Contact: Marij Swinkels e.m.swinkels@uu.nl.

Marijn van Ellen
4 May 2023

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