Fostering Intercultural Competence at Ghent University

Teksti | Sini Aalto-Friman

I had the opportunity to participate in the International Staff Training at Ghent University in Belgium November 22-24, 2023, called Intercultural orientation and safety management for outgoing students.

View to Ghent downtown from the top of the Castle of the Counts, Gravensteen. Photo by Sini Aalto-Friman

During the international training, I had the pleasure of connecting with international colleagues from all around Europe. It was truly enlightening to hear their stories and gain a deeper understanding of their respective countries and cultures. The conversations emphasized the significance of intercultural competence and fostering cultural awareness. The international week welcomed staff from 16 countries and 22 universities. I was the only one representing Finland and naturally Laurea University of Applied Sciences.

Ghent as a city

It is the capital and largest city of the East Flanders province in Belgium, and the third largest in the country, after Brussels and Antwerp with its approximately 265 000 inhabitants. It is located about an hour from Brussels with the train. There is also a direct train from Brussels airport to Ghent, so it is easily reached.

In the Middle Ages Ghent was the second largest city in Europe after Paris and it was the center of crafts and industry. Today it is a compact and dynamic city with trams running in the center, no cars and easy cycling routes. It is easy to walk around the beautiful buildings, canals, squares and shops. The youthful city has numerous restaurants, cafes, museums, and culture. It has most vegetarian restaurants than anywhere else in Europe, compared to is population. Ghent is the City of Music by UNESCO. Ghent feels safe and has the charm of a small town. It is a perfect bohemian town for studying and visiting for a weekend or during summer when they host a large street festival. Belgians speak well English. Even in November many terraces were open, and the city was lid up beautifully and started to be decorated for Christmas.

Ghent University

Ghent University is a top-ranking university founded in 1817. Ghent University is an open, pluralistic, and socially engaged university. It is more than 200 years old, offers more than 200 programmes (including 64 English-taught master’s programmes) and conducts in-depth research within a wide range of scientific domains. The university buildings were located all around Ghent.

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Ghent in numbers (Ghent University)
Ghent University, Campus Boekentoren in the city center. Photo by Sini Aalto-Friman

Programme of the International Training

On Wednesday we had the welcoming words and an introduction of Ghent University by Mrs. Geneviève Cochez – Deputy Head of International Relations Office, Erasmus+ Institutional coordinator from Ghent University. We got to know each other by “speed dating” method and we learned about a broader framework for intercultural and international competences for all students by zooming out on diversity and inclusion presented by Mrs. Katrien De Bruyn, Policy advisor Educational Quality Assurance Office from Ghent University. Then it was the turn of Mr. René Teunissen, Senior Policy Advisor Internationalisation from Erasmus University Rotterdam, with his topic: “Intercultural Orientation: why?”

After lunch we discussed International and Intercultural Competences and got some impulses from the practices and policy at Ghent University by Mr. Thibault Hoogstoel, Policy Advisor in the International Relations Office and Mrs. Karen Wouters, Student Mobility Advisor in the International Relations Office. Mr. René Teunissen explained about an example of an intercultural orientation module in the curriculum. Last we learned about the link between Intercultural Preparation and Safety abroad by Mrs. Geneviève Cochez. In the evening we tasted the delicious examples of Belgian cuisine at De Abt restaurant.

On Thursday we started discussing Decolonizing North-south student mobility: from theory to practice, facilitated by Mr. Sebastian Van Hoeck, Global Engagement Officer from the University of Antwerp. We ate lunch in the Studentrestaurant and continued the programme with an interactive session about tackling challenges in organizing intercultural orientations, debriefing and travel safety facilitated by Mr. Thibault Hoogstoel and Mrs. Karen Wouters. In the evening we visited St Baafs Catheral and their famous altarpiece with a guide.

On Friday, the final day the programme included presentations by the participants. Annika Weiser, Erasmus+ Mobility Officer- from Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany, introduced their intercultural orientation of outgoing students. Silke Schubert, Outgoing Coordinator from Esslingen University, Germany, told us about their certificate of intercultural learning. I presented our Go Abroad Course and Intercultural Competence at Laurea. And the last was Sanja Sandić, Head of Communication Office from University of Primorska, Slovenia, who made us familiar with the concept of their storytelling sessions about Erasmus experience.

Then we discussed the lessons learned and had a wrap-up and continued our way to have final lunch together at a beautiful building, Vooruit”. I want to thank An Van Laeken and all her colleagues at Ghent University for these exciting days together!

Ghent University, Campus UFO. Photo by Sini Aalto-Friman

The connections of Laurea and Ghent

Laurea does not have a partnership with Ghent University, but we have one with University College Gent for Business Management, Business and Information Management and Social Services. Laurea lecturers can visit and teach at University College Ghent as a normal teacher exchange and other staff members can visit either one of the institutes with a staff mobility agreement. I hope many of our students find University College Ghent and staff members get the chance to visit the city. We can get a lot of inspiration and ideas of new exchanges and I recommend them to all!



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