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“We expect students to have an open attitude”

International Classroom lunch meeting

No-one denies that SBE students should integrate more with other nationalities. But staff members should not be held responsible for its success. This was one of the outcomes of last Wednesday's lunch meeting about the International Classroom Development programme.

 

In a small room in the former Jesuit monastery, coordinator Wim Swaan sketched the familiar image of the student population at the School of Business and Economics: 50 per cent Germans, 35 per cent Dutch and 15 per cent 'other', varying from Belgians to Koreans. So, two majorities, who live in separate worlds, and a fragmented minority that can hardly find a connection with the inward-looking majorities.

The International Classroom Development programme should put an end to parts of the student population living side by side without real contact. The programme consists of intercultural and social skills, which come up in every block period – lasting two hours. An important objective is to make students aware of those moments when fellow-students are shut out. This often happens during breaks, when everyone changes back to his or her mother tongue.

Some wonder whether this is really all that bad. During breaks, everyone wants to relax and this is best done in one’s own language. Are we now going to lay down that students relax in English? Swaan: “We don’t want to lay down anything for anyone, but we do want to make people aware of the consequences. We ask students to set objectives. What percentage of the time do they want to speak English? Later, we ask them if they have been successful.”

Professor Mark Peterson, who occupies the Geert Hofstede Chair on cultural diversity at the moment, is afraid that foreign students do not really understand much of this programme because it is “so Dutch”. “Lecturers are always setting standards. Why not just set some rules?” Because rules do not fit in with the SBE culture, Swaan answers. Lecturers at SBE teach in various ways and that is a good thing. Some of his colleagues give their approval. “Not rule-driven but value-driven.”

It is also important that tutors, who have also been trained, set a good example. “Something that makes me feel uncomfortable,” says prof. Joan Muysken, “is that the responsibility for this project lies solely with the staff. I do not spend my breaks with my students and that is how I want it to be. We should spread the net wider. What about the student associations? Are we also speaking to those groups? Will they be also setting objectives for themselves?”

The idea that only staff is responsible, is based on a misunderstanding, says Swaan. “We also expect things from students, an open attitude towards other nationalities, to say the least.”

 

 

Maurice Timmermans

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