It’s so early they are not even selling coffee yet in the Academy Building, but Henriette Mulder is more than awake and ready to face her day full of meetings. Luckily, she could squeeze me in, and after finding a nice spot, we delve straight into the topic of how connected our students are to the “outer world”, and more important, how aware they are of this.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
A: I am Henriette Mulder, and I work as the coordinator of the International Office at the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE). I started working in the internationalization business in 2003, at the UMCG, the University Medical center, and in 2014 I came to set up the International Office for this faculty.
Q: And since you started working with the University of Groningen, have there been any noticeable changes in the way that internationalization has been approached?
A: Yes, yes, very clearly. In the beginning it was a struggle to get international students accepted and seen as actually our own students. And still now exchange students are regarded as “others”. When you talk about procedures and the things that we need to arrange for them, they’re still considered as a special category, and that’s what we’re fighting to change. It has gotten considerably better over time though.
Q: What about outgoing students, how has that been handled since you first started at the University?
A: In the UMCG it has never been a problem. Students of medicine or dentistry or movement sciences... they’re very open minded and they travel around the world. They go anywhere -- and they accept international students very easily. Within this faculty it’s a bit different. Some of the students prefer to stay where they are, not move around, don’t go in exchange, although I do get the feeling that our international students feel accepted.
[The attitude] differs per study. Again, 80% of medical students go abroad, and within this faculty sometimes it’s a bit of a struggle, so I was very happy to see two weeks ago that the International Study Abroad Fair was very full. I was very surprised to see so many students. It’s a good sign.
Q: Speaking of numbers, do you have approximate figures of how many students do an exchange, either outgoing or incoming within the FSE?
A: There are more incoming students, considerably. When you look at last year, 2016/2017, we have a total number of 110 going abroad. I must add that there are some, specially master students, that go on exchange for research and don’t visit the office, so there is this bubble of students that go on exchange that we don’t see. Therefore 110 is not the complete picture.
But when you talk about incoming, last year we had a total of 241 students both for coursework and research. We’re halfway through this year, and we already have 72 outgoing and 221 incoming students, so it seems to be growing.
Q: Do you have any pointers on what the main reasons students have to go abroad are?
A: It differs per study. The industrial engineering students want to go to have work experience, to see the world, to broaden their horizon. Some others need to be pulled into the office (laughs) and be told about the opportunity to go on exchange. But the main reason differs per study and of course, per student. It’s always custom made, it’s different for everyone. I would like to see that they want to go abroad because they want to broaden their horizons, and gain more experience about the world.
Q: How can a stay abroad realistically affect the employability of a student once they have left the university?
A: Students develop very valuable networks. I hear of students going back for a PhD, or staying here, when they come from abroad for an exchange to Groningen. A lot of students actually benefit from the networks that they are able to build.
Q: This is a more personal one… Why do you believe in what you do?
A: Well, I’ve been on exchange myself, and I still look upon it as a very enriching period, for me as a person. It opened my eyes to other cultures, other education systems, other standards of living... it makes you humble. I believe that all students that take the opportunity and the time to look beyond their own borders, their own horizon, will enrich themselves. And that’s what we need. We need students that are prepared to look further, to go further, prepared to cooperate with different cultures. This is the platform that we are trying to create. So I can’t imagine another more wonderful job than this one.
Q: Do you have any last words for our readers?
A: Come to the International Office. Ask about opportunities. You can go anywhere. Don’t hesitate, just go.
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