Students studying peer experiences in an international classroom

Joris Boonen
February 3, 2023
Joris Boonen
February 3, 2023

In this Internationalization at Home (IaH) project, a group of second-year Dutch students enrolled in the bachelor ‘International Communication’ (IC) at Zuyd University of Applied Sciences study the experiences of their international peers at another faculty in Maastricht. They use survey data and observations to learn more about the perspective of international and Dutch peers who are enrolled in a different program at another faculty in the city of Maastricht. By analyzing perceptions of inclusion, the use of English and social integration, the IC students get a better perspective on what life is like for international students studying in their city. Going through this exercise also prepares IC students for their own study or internship abroad in the next academic year.  

Learning goals
The analysis on perceptions of inclusion of international students is embedded in a larger case study on internal communication. The goal of the project is twofold:

  • On the one hand we want the IC students to understand the importance of cultural diversity and inclusion in an international setting. They do this by conducting the research, using the data to understand the perspectives of the international students in the educational institute, and translating their findings into possible next-steps.
  • Second, they design a communication campaign to raise awareness on a specific challenge they identified in their analysis.

In the 2021 project, students for instance found out in their analysis that there was an interesting challenge with the use of English in social interactions in the international classroom. In formal classroom settings, international students felt included, because students and staff used English consistently. But in informal interactions, this was not the case, which led to international students easily feeling left out of the social interactions in the informal curriculum. International students also indicated that they would like to have more social contact with Dutch students. Based on these findings, some IC students developed specific awareness campaigns on this topic. At the end of the project, the students summarized their findings and proposed actions in a communication plan, that they presented to the faculty management.

Reflections from students
After the assessment period, we asked the IC students to reflect on their learning experience. How did this project help them to understand the perspectives of others in the international classroom? And did this analysis also prepare them for their international experience? The interviews took place among 45 students who participated in the project. We found some clear examples of openness and curiosity in their reflections afterwards.

It was interesting to read that it was more difficult for them to find a room here …., when I went to China, I was also the odd person out, I guess. So I can kind of relate that they were not really equal to the Dutch, and kind of alienated in a way.”
Well, the other international students feeling less respected from their Dutch peers made me also reflect on my own prejudice against certain people. It made me realize maybe I need to be more open towards them as well.”

The results of this project encouraged the program to continue exploring ways to use local resources to develop an intercultural skillset, also at home. There are a lot of local opportunities to study intercultural interactions, and this example shows that also these activities can lead to meaningful reflection and intercultural learning.