Can our UG students engage with and benefit from internationalisation at home?

Internationalisation is a key element of a healthy and thriving academic environment. BU encourages and provides opportunities for staff and students to engage in professional or academic activities abroad. Increasing international experience of UG students across the university is a current strategic goal. Spending time abroad in an academic exchange or to undertake placements, volunteering work or collaborate in research is a great way for CV enhancement and personal development. However, for a number of reasons, this is not an experience that appeals to all.

To make internationalisation more inclusive to students, it is necessary to maximise the opportunities for engagement and exposure of internationalisation at home. International students make about 10% of BU student numbers; the majority are postgraduate students who have little contact with our undergraduates. Therefore, despite being surrounded by a multicultural community, a good number of our UG students have little opportunity to directly engage with international students.

In February, I received Gabriela, an UG student from Brazil in a one-month voluntary placement. To give Gabriela the opportunity to learn more about BU, the academic environment and student life in the UK, I asked Ally, one of our UG students, who is also taking a placement with me, to spend some time with Gabriela, showing her the campus, taking her to few lectures and working together in some of the placement activities. I thought this was a great opportunity to assess the potential benefits our students can gain from engaging with international students at home. The text below is a brief account of what Gabriela and Ally learned from each other in their own words – I am certain you will find the text stimulating.

My name is Gabriela Sonomura, I’m 19 years old and a student of Oceanography at the University of Vale do Itajaí, Santa Catarina, Brazil. In February, I had the opportunity to travel to England for a five-week placement with Dr Luciana Esteves, senior lecturer at the Faculty of Science and Technology at Bournemouth University. Dr Esteves gave a lecture in my university last year and I contacted her afterwards asking for a placement opportunity.

My name is Ally Arthur-Worsop, I’m 19 and in my second year of my Geography degree at Bournemouth University. Having never really been abroad myself, I always assumed that university was the same all over the world, but when Gabriela came to Bournemouth for her placement I was shocked by the vast differences between the way things worked in Brazil and the way they work here.

Besides the opportunity of a placement relevant to the subject I’m studying, I was excited with the opportunity to experience a rich culture, full of ancient architecture and history. I can say that the experience gained in this exchange and the contact with the English culture was amazing. I realized the differences between Brazil and England, how things work in the first world countries, such as public transportation, security and education. The experience of an exchange in a foreign country is amazing, it doesn’t matter if it’s for a month or a year, being in contact with another culture is positive to everybody.

In the first day I met Ally. She introduced me to the University and she helped me understand in a better way how things work in England, the universities, the support given to students (like accommodation) and the whole process until graduation. I also met Ioli, a Tourism student at Bournemouth University. Ioli is from Greece and she showed me the touristic attractions and the city in general. The most interesting thing in Europe is that due to the European Union, people have the option to choose to study in any country that is part of the EU, and because of this, you can meet people from different countries.

For a start I assumed that all universities have at least some form of accommodation that is available for their students; however, in Brazil accommodation is the complete responsibility of the students and the university doesn’t help at all. I also assumed that all universities, although different, were similar in the way that they do things. I have learnt that in Brazil there are universities that are free, but the difference between the quality of those universities and the ones that you have to pay for is vast.

One thing that Gabriela didn’t like about her university was that the way you pay for university in Brazil is very different to here. In the UK you pay a set amount for every year of university and the government helps us; whereas in Brazil you have to pay for every course you do separately which gives a very money grabbing feel, which is not pleasant for the students. However this may be better in a way because for those students that have less money they can do courses as and when they can afford to pay.

During those five weeks, I realized the differences between my country and the country where I was living, not only about the culture and education, but people as well. Before coming to England, I was aware of these differences, but I admit that there are still many situations which positively surprised me, for example, respect and solidarity to others, honesty, security, but especially the patriotism and pride that English people feel about their country.

However I guess no matter where you are in the world the things we do with our spare time remain the same as normally on the weekends and evenings when I’m not doing work I like to hang out with my friends and go out drinking; and so does Gabriela. One thing that facilitates this is being a member of the university societies and taking part in the social events they organise. In my first year the opportunity to join new societies really helped me settle in and make new friends, which is why I think it’s a shame that such opportunities are not available in universities abroad. The reasons behind picking what course you want to do are very personal and therefore I don’t think it matters where in the world you are. Some people like Gabriela have always had a passion for something and know exactly what they want to do with their lives; others like me just kind of fall in to it.

Brazil is a wonderful country, known worldwide because of football, carnival and especially their cheerful and welcoming people. Unfortunately, these are not the main qualities that will develop a country. Having lived in England made me see how much Brazil needs to change; at the same time, made me realize that the dream that we have to see our country in a better situation is not impossible. We can make the difference, starting in our own home.

I think the exchange was a great opportunity for Gabriela, and I have learned a lot from my experience about not only the differences between the universities but also Brazil and its culture. I would love the opportunity to go on an exchange myself and encourage anyone how is interested in studying abroad to do so.

The experience gained in this exchange cannot be measured. The opportunity of living for five weeks in England and meeting people around the world was indescribable. It certainly was one of the best experiences I ever had and I’ll take it to my personal and professional life forever. I’m really thankful for this opportunity; it made my personal dream come true. My exchange finishes here, but it certainly will always be in my memories. England, I really hope to see you soon.


by Dr Luciana S. Esteves, Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography, Faculty of Science and Technology

Sam Squelch (Student Engagement Coordinator, R&KEO), Rebecca Marney (BU Events) and Gabriela Sonomura.

Sam Squelch (Student Engagement Coordinator, R&KEO), Rebecca Marney (BU Events) and Gabriela Sonomura.

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