Cultural encounters: enhancing students’ learning from a stay abroad

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Students at the Department of Human Geography & Spatial Planning at Utrecht University leave their classroom to learn abroad: they go on exchange for a semester in Malaga, embark upon a fieldtrip to Stockholm for 6 days, or do a 3-month fieldwork in Africa. Learning outside the own classroom is an essential element of the training of geographers. Well-developed intercultural competences are vital to reap the benefits of such stay abroad, and, later on, to work in an increasingly internationalized labor market. However, immersion in a different cultural setting does not itself assure intercultural learning: an active learning environment is needed to achieve this (Trede et al., 2014; Brendel 2014). Thus far, for several reasons, the stay abroad was a rather isolated component in our students’ educational programmes. Upon return, exchange students often point to the immense impact of the period abroad on their academic and personal development, but they can hardly articulate their advances in specific intercultural skills and attitudes. This is strongly related to the fact that upon departure, students do not know what to expect regarding intercultural differences in the field. Furthermore, they are not stimulated to reflect on their intercultural experiences during their stay abroad. As a consequence, the learning of fieldwork abroad is not optimized. Previous experiences and literature call for an approach that confronts students with their own expectations and world views, that stimulate reflection and provoke discussion. Against that background, we developed two projects to prepare students better for a stay abroad, and to train their intercultural competences, using a three-step approach: before, during and after the stay abroad. This paper first introduces the topic and the literature on enhancing the learning outcomes of a stay abroad. Then, we will introduce our projects, one dealing with Master’s students that do their fieldwork in Africa, Asia or Latin America, a second one dealing with undergraduate students that go on exchange. Next, we will present our preliminary findings on the impact of these projects on students’ learning. We conclude with the observation that reflection as a skill deserves more attention in our curricula.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIkaskuntza-irakaskuntza akademikoaren eremu berriak arakatzen - Explorando nuevos campos a través de un enfoque académico de la enseñanza y el aprendizaje - Exploring new fields through the scholarship of teaching and learning
Subtitle of host publication3rd EuroSoTL Conference June 13-14, 2019 Bilbao, Basque Country
Place of PublicationBilbao
PublisherUniversidad del Pais Vasco
Pages368 - 374
Number of pages7
ISBN (Electronic) 978-84-1319-033-4
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019
EventEUROSoTL19 Bilbao - Bilbao
Duration: 13 Jun 201914 Jun 2019


ConferenceEUROSoTL19 Bilbao
Internet address


  • intercultural encounters
  • employability
  • education
  • geography


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