The benefits derived from, and challenges associated with, international exchanges in higher education are the subject of a conference sponsored by the Higher Education Association that we are holding on July 18th. While the event will use as its focus the range of international opportunities in sport, leisure and PE, there will be many issues raised for staff outside these areas, relating to the nature of partnerships and the role of language, for example, with speakers from youth and community, tourism and hospitality, and international volunteering.
Our conference will, of course, be reviewing the opportunities for international exchange available to students and the procedures in place to facilitate those, but crucially we are concerned with the transcendental experiences that, at their best, such exchanges can provide.
The work of our Centre for Social and Educational Research Across the Life Course (SERL) specialises in internationalisation, the internationalised curriculum and international education. Their argument is that that the benefits to be derived from international students living side by side should not be left to chance. Instead, one of their current projects is researching how to shape structures so that they ‘support community learning for intercultural understanding and cross-cultural capability’. David Killick’s PhD, for example, explored the lived-experience of UK students undertaking some form of experience overseas (exchange, placements, volunteering) and demonstrated the 'transformational' nature of such experiences as students became global citizens.
One of the common refrains in social research is that our work needs not just to be reflective, but reflexive too. In other words we need to know how what we bring of ourselves into our research affects the phenomenon we are researching, the nature of the research and its findings. At a personal level I count myself as very fortunate that I did my Masters in Canada which lent a different perspective to my appreciation of political and social processes, as did the time I spent working in Scotland. It was there that I was introduced to Rabbie (Robert) Burns who, amongst his many works, wrote the lines:
"O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!"
(from ‘To a Louse’)
International exchanges do help to promote this kind of out of body experience whereby we are able to gaze down on our ‘normal’ selves and the society we operate in.