Opinion: Resilience, identity and internationalisation

THE IMPACT of Brexit and the dawn of the Trump administration is already having an effect across higher education. How will this changing tide impact on the universities ability to develop globally flexible and emotionally resilient students? LITE Teaching Enhancement Project leaders, Clair Souter, and, Melissa Schuessler, explore this question here.

There is a lot at stake. It’s vital, in our university settings, to prepare our students to embrace, support and contribute to the unfolding global economic agenda, even in light of the massive geopolitical uncertainty that confronts us all.

To us in higher education this means helping them develop and  articulate their multi-faceted identities and cultural intelligence. It means helping them develop and apply the emotional resilience and flexibility to navigate potentially closed country borders, increased insularity and, at worst, outright xenophobia.

Model of engagement

Our LITE project centres on a module we’ve built that fully engages individual students with their own emerging story, and how they tackle the challenges that face them.

It’s also about how we share the outputs of the module, which offer a rich resource to both students and staff in our university and across the sector.

The final year module has been built to allow returning placement and study abroad students to recognise the value of experiential learning by continuing the momentum of their experience and applying this in academic, personal and professional contexts.

Developing strategies

We’re bringing academically complex concepts of identity, cultural intelligence and transition into an individually reflective workshop environment, and integrating assessment of those concepts and self- reflection through personally challenging assignments.

Students at the University of Leeds

By enabling students to  explore and develop their very individual approaches to difficult transitions, self- knowledge and self- management  they are developing strategies that they will be able to use and apply as they move through life.

The student assignments provide a rich source of individual student reflections on the massive impact of experiential learning. They are illuminating and individual personal stories, and also very challenging to mark, which will form another aspect of this project.

Student views

On the theme of culture a BSc Economics placement student, wrote:

Once I understood both sets of cultures I identified myself with, my integration strategy to cope with this differentiation evolved. I learnt to take a step back from any influence of expectations from certain cultures and focused instead on determining what my personal opinions were, and what I wanted to identify with.

In exploring the notion of authenticity, a BA Spanish placement student observed the following:

The question is, how do I use my identity to adapt to different cultural environments but still retain authenticity?….Encompassing all cultural aspects of my life forms the combination of characteristics that has created the person I am today.

And here’s another reflection on cultural intelligence by a BSc Mathematical Studies study abroad student:

Interestingly as a consequence of becoming more acclimatised to the culture in Hong Kong I have gained a new perspective on the UK and the West as a whole. Due to the slight disconnection I have experienced this year I have discovered that I can now view western culture far more objectively and question aspects of how we live far more critically.

Positive dynamic

Central to our project is sharing these reflections with the pre-experience student community, using the module students’ personal journeys to inspire and engage.

We have a real duty to help our students develop strategies  that will enable them to navigate their future with confidence – using their self knowledge and ability to deal with transition, culture and identity and contributing a positive dynamic to any environment they find themselves in.

To find out more about our project and how you can share aspects of it please contact: Clair Souter c.l.souter@leeds.ac.uk or Melissa Schuessler M.C.Schuessler@leeds.ac.uk