International skills and mobility: 5 insights

Going through an international experience has many advantages, both for students and for you as an education professional. But how do you make the most of your time abroad? During the UNISER Teacher Week in Bologna (May 2023), colleague Ella Put and Danielle Scholtes organized a workshop entitled ‘The International Skill Set’ on behalf of Nuffic. Vocational education and training (VET) professionals from all over Europe took part in this workshop. Below, we share five relevant insights.

“Students enjoy getting involved themselves.”

Insight 1: It is valuable to start with the context

Conscious internationalisation starts with the question: ‘What international context are you preparing your students for?’ After all, this can vary by region, sector, study programme, level and per individual. Next, you describe the competences a person needs to function in that context. You can use Nuffic’s international competences model for this. For example, working in an environment with a lot of cultural diversity requires general knowledge of one’s own and other cultures.

Insight 2: Students enjoy getting involved themselves

Your international experience starts before your trip. Discuss in advance with your students how they can get the most out of their time abroad. Ask questions like: What makes you international? What international competences have you already mastered? What do you want to learn when abroad? That way, you can create a more focused programme together that can be customised to suit your students’ individual needs.

Insight 3: Building in flexibility also makes things more practical

Giving international activities a permanent place in the curriculum is worthwhile, but be sure to remain flexible. “A colleague or company might come up with a great project or exchange out of the blue”, one of the participants said. “When that happens, you want to have the opportunity to do something with it.” The answer is to try it out and integrate the activity into the curriculum at a later stage.

Here is a great example: Two workshop participants work as lecturers in an Italian VET college where they train students for technical professions. Students often fail to see the importance of an international experience for their later profession. The morning of our workshop, the two lecturers bumped into a director of a major tech company in the region on the train. He told them he had a need for technical talent with international skills. The lecturers hit upon the idea of inviting him to talk to students about going on an international experience.

“How will gaining international skills help you in your future career?”

Insight 4: Reflecting on meaningful experiences helps

Learning does not always come naturally. Help students to reflect on the content of their international exchange and their experiences. Teach them to recognise their personal growth and list the competences they acquired. Let your own international experiences and competences serve as an inspiring example. For instance, you could ask the question: How will gaining international skills help you in your further studies or future career, like when you apply for a job?

Insight 5: The student as ambassador: share experiences in school

An international experience will let students grow. Stories of personal growth abroad are valuable and often very nice to share in school. They can motivate others to go, and to prepare well.

In conclusion:

Of course, students can also gain international competences at home under the banner of ‘internationalisation at home’. My advice: choose those internationalisation opportunities that suit the study programme, level, background and interests of the student, as well as the labour market or opportunities for further study.

If you have any questions or reactions or would like to share insights yourself, please send an email to

The link to the publication International competence | Nuffic

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