With Go Abroad - Staff, University of Edinburgh staff can experience excellent development opportunities in Europe and beyond. Lorna Bruce, Assistant Head - Communications at Edinburgh Global, spent a week in Lisbon on a Staff Training Week at NOVA Faculty of Social and Human Sciences.
By Lorna Bruce
I arrived in Lisbon late at night, and being off the back of a few days of workshops with staff from partner universities, I was intrigued to see how the Staff Training Week at NOVA FCSH would compare.
I’d just spent time with people who had similar communications and marketing backgrounds or roles, while the week ahead was promising something a little different, with a focus on ‘Student Mobility’ - a shared topic, rather than similar skill sets. This week was going to be a first for me.
Getting to know the team
The icebreaker on the first day gave me a chance to understand the breadth of representation in the group, including academics, support staff, student-facing roles, IT staff, exchange coordinators - from large or ancient universities to small and new institutions.
The diversity of participants was a benefit for wide discussions and conversations through the week, with a range of perspectives and expertise to help understand commonality and differences in how we approach student mobility.
I enjoyed being able to contribute my own experiences and knowledge, particularly with people who didn’t have support in Communications (my area of work) in their own teams and organisations.
Equally, I felt I benefitted from others’ expertise in deepening my own understanding of the work that contributes to promoting participation in student mobility experiences.
The sessions were a mix of informative and fun; from a crash course in Portuguese language to presentations from participants about their organisations, from a marketing masterclass to a walking tour of the city, and always with plenty of opportunities to chat with the others and to try something from the huge ‘snack buffet’ that we’d all contributed to!
For me, presenting an overview of the University and my work to the group (not something I would normally enjoy) was actually fun. It was a reminder of why I do what I do, and the presentations on the whole really gave insight into the challenges and opportunities that were common across the group despite the size, history, funding or governance of our respective organisations.
Of course, this word came up a few times!
Across the board, there was genuine interest in what ‘Brexit’ will mean for students and HEIs in the future.
With just a handful of participants from the UK, it was reassuring to hear from them and the others that there’s a continuing desire to work in partnership across Europe, and that efforts are being made to ensure that UK HEIs continue to be a destination of choice for students and staff undertaking mobility experiences.
Lisbon itself (despite quite a lot of rain!) provided an epic backdrop for the week of learning and discovering both professionally and personally.
The cultural and social aspects were a highlight!
Exploring the city, wandering its neighbourhoods, the music, foods, coffee shops, popular sights and hidden gems - it all felt familiar, like a city-break, but unusual to be there in a work-context with colleagues from different walks of life.
We didn’t just learn about Portuguese culture, but about each other’s own corners of Europe; Austria, Lithuania, Finland, Montenegro, Serbia, Poland, France, Spain, Turkey, Italy, and more. People were obviously passionate to hear about Scotland too!
On a more personal note, just trying to do a normal part of my routine – go for a swim – proved a bit of a challenge and felt like an appropriate metaphor when we’d been discussing student mobility.
Getting lost, not speaking the language, finding the pool closed for renovation, looking for an alternative, getting lost again, and finally finding a tiny, local pool hours later which was really more for kids than adults - a small reminder that even simple things in a new place can prove to be more complicated than expected, and that a little help can go a long way when supporting students who are away from home for the first time in unfamiliar surroundings.
Ease of organising
On the whole, being on an organised Staff Training Week made the experience really straight-forward. Applying for the funding and arranging travel and accommodation were easy, with help in the process from the Go Abroad team. The rest being taken care of by the team at NOVA made the whole week enjoyable and stress-free.
The programme was well-organised, and they even arranged specific meetings for us – mine was with their communications and marketing team so that it was relevant to my own role, where I heard about their work and projects.
By the end of the week it was sad to say goodbye to people who were not only part of a widened professional network, but also friends.
As I set off to explore some more of Portugal for a few days, the comparison I’d anticipated between the workshops specific to my skillset and this topic-specific programme was actually very neat. Both provided valuable connections, friendships, learning points and ideas to consider in my work.
The short-term benefits of working in a different location, exploring ideas and being with new people, as well as the long-term benefits of deepened knowledge, an expanded network of colleagues and take-home ideas, mean that the experience will have ongoing impact on the work that I do.
Now I’m already considering… what next?