Boudewijn van Dongen.

UR | Time ticking away in Barcelona


While Eindhoven is celebrating the first (and probably the last) real week of summer, I’m writing this column in similar weather conditions in Barcelona. I’m visiting a colleague of mine for a few weeks to work on my international experience.

International experience is something you may have heard of. The university wants all staff to be well connected to international institutes. And while the whole world is connected through Skype, Whatsapp, Viber, etc, for us this means mandatory stays abroad, and for me a couple of weeks in Barcelona, this time in the summer. Could be worse!

So far, I’ve experienced a couple of things. First, in the summer people hardly come to the university. I’m the first to arrive (at 8:30) and the last to leave (at 18:30). The only other persons I see during the day is my colleague and, occasionally, his PhD students. The scientific staff is typically only there for teaching and then goes home again.

Second, when there’s nobody around, I get things done (despite the fact that some people keep sending me messages through Lync). Earlier this year, I visited the same colleague and we finished a conference paper. Now, we’ll manage to finalize an implementation, do experiments and start writing a number of follow up publications.

While I am enjoying the results, I can’t help but wonder what it is the TU/e wants me to learn here. What are the competences I am supposed to develop here that cannot be developed in Eindhoven? Should I get more insight into the organization of universities abroad? Should I get more insight into the teaching system here? In short, what are the elements that are evaluated? Or is it really just about the time ticking away outside of Eindhoven?

Furthermore, international experience is hard on family life. While I am ‘passing time’ in a room in Barcelona, my family is not on hold. They also have to go to work and to school. The kids need to be picked up from daycare, go to sports, swimming lessons, etc. Things you normally do together are now left for the one parent that stays behind.

All things considered, international experience is great and we should strive to have the strongest possible network for the TU/e. However, international experience should not be measured by the number of months spent abroad, but rather by the size and strength of the collaborative network and the competences we develop abroad. Let’s make the evaluation less about time ticking away...


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