Senior Educational Technologist
In May 2014 I spent two weeks on the Erasmus Staff Mobility Scheme visiting the e-learning and educational technology development department of the Technical University of Berlin. I wanted to broaden my horizons and see how e-learning services are managed in other universities. I also wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to visit another country with the ERASMUS scheme. I can honestly say that it was a really eye-opening experience and not only did I gain valuable work experience and meet interesting people during the trip, but it was also a great life experience.
The department, InnoCampus, designs and creates systems such as the student portal and timetabling system and the virtual learning environment, before handing them over to central IT for support. Interestingly most members of the department are also academics, teaching and researching in areas such as computer science and social media development, so their academic work is put into practice through the projects that InnoCampus is responsible for.
I decided to look at participating in Erasmus after my department at City hosted a visit by an IT specialist from an Italian university in 2012. From what I saw, he really enjoyed his visit and it prompted me to look into doing the scheme myself. I have never lived or worked abroad, or travelled, so most of my experiences of other countries are from holidays. Of course I have nothing against holidays, but I did want to expand my experiences and taking part in Erasmus definitely gave me the opportunity to experience something like daily working life in another European country. I wanted to go somewhere where I speak the language so looked at various universities in France and Germany, eventually choosing Berlin as I've visited the city several times so I know some areas quite well.
Berlin is, as many people say, a fantastic city with many different characters and something for everyone. The Wilmersdorf-Charlottenburg area in the West where the TU Berlin is located is a quiet, residential district, but only half an hour's walk to the centre of the city. The abiding impressions I have of Berlin are the diverse, cheap, and good food, the iconic low-rise skyline with the Siegesäule monument and the Fernsehturm TV tower, and the deep-voiced Berlin dialect.
The whole experience was fantastic, as I learned a lot from my hosts at the university, really enjoyed getting to know the campus, and Berlin in the spring is a fabulous place to be. However even in this short time I began to find being alone in a foreign country quite difficult. After only two weeks I was looking forward to coming home, being around people I know, and speaking English again. I don't believe that worthwhile experiences are always easy, however, so even at the time I told myself it was worth it.
I would whole-heartedly recommend the ERASMUS scheme to anyone. It's a great opportunity to form links with people in another university and experience life in a different city. One of the advantages of doing an exchange scheme as a university employee is the campus environment: being on campus immediately gives you a feel for the institution you are visiting, and conveniences such as cheap coffee and free wifi, and offers a great jumping-off point for exploring a city. It's definitely worth the initial struggle of finding a contact at a partner institution. If you can do this, you have cleared the main hurdle and you will be on your way to a rewarding, eye-opening adventure in a European city.