Three years ago I started working at the university that I obtained my Master’s degree at. I am getting used to saying that now. If you had told me five years ago that I would be doing this job, I would never have believed you. Working in education? Me? Ha!
Yet, I find myself highly enjoying every single day at work, where I coordinate an international Bachelor programme. I interact with students, staff, and many colleagues who come from all corners of the world. I organise all kinds of events and projects both for students and staff, and generally am responsible for making the (organisation of the) academic year run smoothly.
It is truly a very enjoyable environment to be working in: everyone values education, (self-)development, achieving your goals individually and in team work, and preparing yourself for a good future. One of the possible ways to develop yourself and learn, is to visit other universities – see how things are done elsewhere, talk to people, ask questions, and also share with others the best practices that you have encountered. I took the opportunity to do just that, last year in May. Read on if you’re interested! 🙂
When I had worked in this job for a year, I realised that my experience of how I do things and the way I understand the workings of the university and my department was a bit limited. We’re a small team, a small faculty, and I have my own way of conducting all the tasks that require my attention. Now that I had experienced a full year, I was becoming more and more interested in how other people within the university approached their work, as well as subjects such as internationalisation, community building, and other things that I find important in a degree programme with a very diverse student population.
When talking about this with my supervisor, she immediately suggested that I go on a Staff Exchange: visit a different university for a couple of days to see how they do things, and meet with people who are in similar positions to share best practices. I was very excited to be given this opportunity, and soon browsed the long list of European partner universities. Where would I go?
Internationalisation is a big theme within universities these days. Having a strong international focus in your programme comes with challenges. How do other universities handle it on a programme-level? I decided to search for a university and city that, just like Rotterdam, has an ambition to strengthen its international position, and offers English-taught programmes in a country where English is not the first language.
Staff Exchange to Helsinki, Finland
I chose Finland. Just like the Netherlands, it has its own weird language that they don’t speak anywhere else (well, except for Belgians, in our case). It checked all my boxes: a university with an international profile, a city that profiles itself increasingly as an international hotspot as well, a department in house similar to the one I work at… And so after some paperwork, finding a nice place through Airbnb, and getting myself on the flight, there I was, in Helsinki in the middle of May 2018!
Turns out the International Staff Exchange Week for Administrative Staff of the University of Helsinki is quite popular, and I was very lucky to have made it in on the first try!
The programme was packed with interesting sessions where we could connect and share experiences with fellow exchange participants. Most interestingly, we also got connected with people from the University of Helsinki who matched well with our interests. We submitted beforehand which topics and areas we wanted to learn more about, and got one full day with a personal programme where everyone had their own meetings with interesting people that you could discuss those topics with. I was particularly interested in internationalisation and practical matters around organising bachelor programmes and strengthening communities, so I was introduced to the head of student affairs, as wel as some coordinators and student advisors.
It was such a great experience! I got to know a lot of people who I still hear from every now and then on Facebook or through email, updating each other about more staff weeks elsewhere in Europe. Who knows – I might run into them in the future when I go on another training week abroad, or invite them over to Rotterdam if they want to know more about our university.
You know what was probably best about this trip? Exactly one year before, during the previous edition of the International Staff Week, the city was covered in a thick layer of snow, with freezing temperatures. When I was there, in the exact same week of May… It was 35 degrees. It was hysterical, but sooooo nice!
After the intensive 5-day programme was over, my lovely Tom flew over to join me on a little mini-holiday. By that time Helsinki was declared the hottest place in Europe – a crazy heatwave! It was a lot of fun to show him around in a city where I was still a stranger myself, but where I did feel at home quite immediately. We filled our time with museums, food, sunsets, biking around (and away from) the city… Followed by a quick flight to Stockholm, before returning back to reality in the Netherlands. Definitely full of inspiration and new insights into the world of academia – from the administrative perspective, at least!