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Understanding our international minds

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What does it mean to be an international student? Are our students culturally agile and how does this develop when they come to Sheffield or when Sheffield students go abroad? Dr Panayiota Alevizou is conducting a research project to find out.

Emerging in 2014 as an interest from her Certificate in Learning and Teaching (CiLT), it rapidly evolved into a longitudinal study of internationalisation and cultural agility thanks to funding support from the Management School and Faculty of Social Sciences.

Panayiota’s project adopts a case-study approach, focusing on students studying the MSc in Global Marketing Management, where they spend the first semester in Sheffield and the second at Hong Kong Baptist University. By studying the challenges, barriers, and opportunities of two different educational settings, from two different student identity perspectives (as UK and Hong Kong based students), the student perspective unfolds. This offers a voice to their concerns, feelings and opinions in terms of internationalisation, and helps the institutional partners enhance students’ experience and prepare them for future professional paths.

To generate initial findings, which were recently presented at a Faculty event showcasing its Curriculum Development Funding projects, Panayiota observed and interviewed students during their lectures at both institutions, also discussing her project with academic and professional staff. Preliminary research strongly suggests that programmes with a semester abroad are preferred by both home and international students who view this ‘international setting’ as an educational advantage. Other findings relate to social interaction and activities, leadership, cultural flexibility and adaptability, in-group clashes and problem resolution.

The development of cultural agility and the ability of the Sheffield Graduate to work and compete in an international environment is one of the Learning and Teaching (L&T) Strategy priority themes of the University. Professor Paul Latreille, Associate Dean for Learning and Teaching in the Management School, said: “This is a really exciting project that addresses a vital issue for the school – learning about how our students experience multiple local contexts is central to helping them develop the cultural agility that is fundamental in the modern global business environment, and for which this programme in particular equips them.”

The study has continued with the latest cohort, and Panayiota will travel to Hong Kong in April to continue observation and interviews with a view to publishing the results in due course.

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