In 2022 WUT’s strategic partner, Nottingham Trent University, organized the European and International Cities Virtual Student Exchange, as a follow-up activity to previously organized exchanges in face-to-face formats (NTU’s European Creative and SMART Cities Challenge). The event is based on our universities’ and cities’ existing strategic cooperation. Its’ virtual format came as a result of the repeated cancellation and postponement of student exchanges, study abroad, and short mobilities. The aim was to provide students with the opportunity, despite lockdown and travel restrictions, to meet students from around the world and make meaningful connections, learn about new cultures, and experience inter-cultural collaboration by working on a project together.
NTU approached 6 partner universities, including West University of Timisoara, who were all very keen to share the opportunity with their students:
· West University Timisoara
· CETYS University, Mexico
· Kuban State University, Russia
· Utah State University, USA · Ryerson University, Canada
· Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences, Germany
The worry that students might have ‘digital fatigue’ and not want to participate rapidly faded away as organizers were proved wrong by the 194 applications in just 3 weeks of promotion. The largest number of students came from West University of Timisoara, with 69 applications.
Students were matched into groups of between 3 – 6 students from different universities, with a total of 46 groups. The matching process was thoroughly done by NTU based on hobbies, musical interests, if they had pets, what kinds of books they liked to read. In this way, the organizers made sure that students had things in common to chat about, a very important varianle in making the exchange a success. The exchange was designed so that students had a timetable of discussion themes to follow, while being able to meet when and how they liked and use whatever platform they wanted to for the meetings. On thinking of a project topic that was relevant and all students had experience of, Covid 19 came up and students would create a group project around 5 covidbased questions that the organizers proposed. Additionally, the project included pre- and postexchange activities including Cross Cultural Communication Workshops.
The feedback received from students for this exchange was overwhelmingly positive. Some remarks of West University of Timisoara’s students can be found below and they reinforce students’ needs for connection in these difficult times, as well as the added value of international collaborative projects for students’ personal and professional development. This gives all of us involved in the internationalization of higher education hopes that Covid 19 can not and will not stand in the way of international cooperation.
First of all, I want to congratulate the project initiative, the meetings proposed in this format without the constraint of a professor made our discussions flow freely, and the established topics based on a specific schedule made our conversations focused in a certain direction and area of interest. The most interesting aspect was about sharing cultural customs because we could compare various things (clothing style, restaurants, outing habits, food) or styles (perspectives on books, movies made in our countries, stereotypes about our nations, etc.). I don’t think I have changed anything in my lifestyle, but certainly, I`ve got rich with some information and curiosities regarding Russian, Spanish, and UK culture.
I liked that in these exchanges I had the opportunity to meet new people with whom to share different things and with whom I was able to spend my time. The most interesting aspect of these exchanges was that each of us was in a different corner of the world. I am glad that I had opportunity to participate in the “European and International Cities Virtual Student Exchange’ program, from which I managed to improve my ability to work in a team and to improve my English.
This exchange experience enriched my heart getting close with strangers and making them my friends during hard times, we comforted each other and listened for each other all this way and I really don’t think my life would have been the same without them.
In some ways, the expectations I had at the beginning were true because there were certain cultural differences, but not as many as I expected. We were a lot more alike than I initially thought and we had a lot in common, which was nice. It was a pleasure to be a part of this student exchange, it was very entertaining and fun. It was nice to talk to people that are on the same wave-length with you and I feel like we were all a perfect match.