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Dutch students fail to adapt behaviour abroad

Do you adapt to your host country’s culture and values when studying abroad? Most Avans students don’t, a 6-year study conducted by Jonathan van Melle, lecturer at the Avans School of International Studies (ASIS), reveals.

Dutch people like to do things in their own way, also when they’re abroad. Van Melle: “One student stated that it took her a stay abroad to find out that not everyone has the same mindset as the Dutch.” However, Van Melle notes: “We are no China or the US. We are only a small country that plays no leading role in international business. This means we are the ones who have to adjust to other cultures.”

No giggling in class
The pace of work in Spain is slower than in the Netherlands. South-east Asians eat a lot of rice and many of them are Buddhists. This might all sound familiar to you. But did you know that giggling in class is deemed unacceptable in South Korea? Or that student couples in Indonesia are not allowed to sleep together in the same room? ASIS students who went to these countries didn’t. Van Melle: “The couple didn’t understand they weren’t allowed to sleep together. The two students visiting South Korea weren’t aware that laughing in the classroom is a no go. After doing so, they were subsequently ignored.”

“We claim that we prepare students for an international career. However, do our efforts have the desired effect? Do our students have the ability to respect and appreciate other people’s values abroad?” A number of incidents involving Avans students abroad prompted an investigation. His initial research among students confirmed Van Melle’s suspicions that they were unable to immerse themselves in a foreign culture. He conducted a comprehensive study among all ASIS students in the subsequent years.

Conclusion of this study: the students lack adaptability. “Students live inside a bubble. If, for example, you have never been to Spain except to go on a boozy holiday, you don’t know any better.”

Van Melle has come up with a solution to increase students’ awareness. “We need to actively raise their awareness before, during and after work placements abroad. This is not something we’re doing at the moment.”

The lecturer doesn’t yet have plans on how to achieve this. This will be worked out later. He suggests activities as part of work placement review days: “Let students who have studied or trained abroad tell students who are yet to go abroad about their experiences.”

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