Less than a month ago, I returned from a working visit to Hong Kong. I benefited from a scholarship awarded for teacher mobility at my home institution and could travel to a partner university in Hong Kong where I held a series of lectures at various levels with Europe and the European Union in focus. Now that I am back, I am sharing with you my thoughts about the lessons I took home from this experience.
The first impression is also the most obvious one: to teach in a different classroom than the one I was used to was a challenge but a very welcome one. I benefited tremendously from having to think in a new way about familiar topics, as I had to question some of the basic assumptions that I held about a European classroom. Targeting a new audience allowed my own treatment of the subject to take a fresher note and pushed me to make comparisons that otherwise I wouldn’t have included in my way of approaching the subject. Moving away from the home classroom provides a great stimulus to new thinking both in terms of the pedagogical and the scientific content of my lectures.
Secondly, I was impressed with the extent of internationalization I was met with in Hong Kong. While very much steeped in the Asian context, the student body was very diverse as was the reading list for the courses that I participated in. English was the language of instruction, and that facilitated the presence of students from as diverse places as Germany, Norway, the US, China and Hong Kong. I found out later on that this phenomenon was not restricted to my particular class, but that most classes on campus were gathering students from Asia, Americas and Europe.
Moreover, the way in which the subject matter was presented to the students also bore the mark of internationalization. The majority of the course literature was in English, and the papers and exams were delivered in English as well. The Hong Kong students were familiar with the same body of work that any other diligent student in the (Western?) university education in social sciences would also be working from. This stands proof also of the contact that the university teacher had with the state of the art in her subject. Both the teacher and the students were thus categorically international in their approach, while at the same time anchored in the reality of the Southeast Asian region.
My third lesson is that in order to take advantage of internationalization, one has to have a broad network of like-minded scholars with whom to collaborate and exchange ideas. In my case, my multinational cohort at an American university gave me the opportunity to create links with my then colleagues that now serve the interests of a mobile academic segment. These links were and are not just intellectual, even though these are the most obvious ones. By sharing four years or more of Ph.D. education, we were able to know each other socially as well and to later build on our shared experiences to continue what we already then found a pleasant and rewarding meeting of minds. The opportunity to have a large and solid international network starts in graduate school.
To put it short: internationalization is the name of the game across continents; it is not an idea but a concrete reality. In order to fully benefit from it though, one should be integrated in academic networks that more often than not have their origin in graduate school or during the early career years.